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Sports

Cross country to face quality competition at Louisville Classic

| Friday, October 2, 2020

The Irish cross country squads will travel to Louisville this Saturday for their second meet of the season, and last meet before the ACC Championships. Although the meet size will still be relatively small for cross country, there will be around seven teams at the meet. 

Matt Sparks, the head women’s cross country coach, said there will be seven teams from the SEC there who will provide good competition for the Irish.

“Arkansas and Ole Miss have kinda led the way for that conference lately. And both men’s and women’s teams are expected to be there. That will be a good test for us ahead of the ACC Championship,” Sparks said.

One challenge that the team will face is the bizarre schedule of this season. Usually, there are several races throughout the year before the ACC Championships, and the team usually tries to peak for the NCAA Championships at the end of November. This year, however, the Irish will need to peak for the ACC Championships at the end of October. Additionally, there is a four-week break between Saturday’s race and the ACCs, which will be a challenge for training.

“We’ve never gone four weeks without a meet, so that’s going to be the challenge between Saturday and the conference meet. It’s putting more pressure on the coaches to recognize what time of year it is,” Sparks said. “We have a more aggressive training plan in September, which is unique for our program. This is necessary if the end of our season is the end of October. Traditionally November is when we start to ramp it up for championship season, but this year it will be ending at that time.”

Sparks also emphasized the importance of his team controlling what they can control, especially related to COVID-19.

“We know they’ll come to practice from 3:30 to 5:30 and do what is expected of them. But now the emphasis is do whatever you need to do to not have a close contact or get COVID because that is our biggest rival over the next five weeks,” Sparks stated. “Our sport is conditioning. If you miss two to three weeks because of a close contact, your season is over. This is different from if a football running back misses two weeks for example. He’s maybe alright because conditioning isn’t their entire sport.”

Sparks is planning on bringing eleven women to Saturday’s race, which will hold great importance for deciding the ten runners who compete at the conference meet in a month.

“This [meet] will go a long way, but it won’t be the only factor,” Sparks said. “A lot can change in that four-week window. The unique piece for us is that we have a lot of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors that we are counting on.”

The women’s team is very deep this year, which will make it hard to narrow down the roster to ten by the conference meet.

“From our one to 11, we are as deep and talented as we have been in six years. We just don’t have the Anna Rohrer or Molly Seidel. We don’t have the star power up front that we had,” Sparks explained. “It will make it a little more challenging to narrow down from eleven to ten. That’s a good problem to have because all of them are running so well right now.”

Like Sparks, head men’s cross country coach Sean Carlson is eager to see how his team stacks up against some quality competition at Saturday’s race. 

At the first meet of the season, the Irish men had very little competition, but Saturday’s meet should prove different.

“Obviously our first meet, we got some feedback from, but we didn’t have any top-level conference teams or top-level competition to get feedback from,” Carlson stated. “I think this will provide that. I think the cool part is that we will be able to compare some things.”

Carlson discussed how he is excited to see how his team compares with Ole Miss specifically on Saturday. The Rebels have consistently been a top-15 program with some quality individuals as well and being able to compare times will tell Carlson a lot about his team.

“It’s a really good reference point of where we are at and if we need to make any adjustments or not,” Carlson said.

With more competition, Carlson expects more spread among his team when compared to the first race of the season. Despite this, he still expects his team to pack up when possible and work together through most of the race.

“We will certainly have a little more spread in our one to seven or maybe one to five, but I expect us to have a couple of packs,” Carlson said. “We are running about fourteen guys at Louisville. In our top seven, I expect to have maybe two packs that are relatively close together throughout the race and then another two packs within our next seven guys.”

Like the women’s team, Saturday will be very important in deciding who runs at the conference meet, especially this year with COVID-19.

“The limit at conferences is ten, but sometimes we bring less,” Carlson said. “With COVID and every additional person we bring it puts our team more at risk, we might need to revisit that. The biggest challenge outside of training this year is keeping our guys healthy and keeping our guys safe.”

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