ND cross country programs return to action, prepare for upcoming national meet
Nate Moller | Tuesday, February 9, 2021
The men’s and women’s cross country programs both returned to action this past week with the men heading down to Las Vegas to compete in the Silver State Collegiate Challenge last Monday and the women competing in the Florida State Winter XC Classic in Tallahassee this past Friday.
The women’s team came in 8th place out of 18 teams with 209 points.
The Irish were led by sophomore Olivia Markezich who finished 22nd overall, completing the 6K race in a time of 20:46.5.
Head women’s cross country coach Matt Sparks expects Markezich to be a big contributor in the near future for the Irish.
“Individually, Olivia Markezich continues to improve,” Sparks said. “She will be able to compete on a national level soon.”
Markezich was followed by junior Maddy Denner (31st), junior Jocelyn Long (51st), senior Annasophia Keller (53rd), junior Meghan Scott (57th) and junior Jacqueline Gaughan (78th).
Sparks discussed the impact of having some of his top runners unavailable for the meet last week.
“Today was rough,” Sparks said. “We were without three of our top six runners from the fall cross country season and those losses were too much for us to overcome today.”
On the men’s side, the Irish placed fourth overall in a race that featured six ranked teams. The fourth-ranked Irish put up 80 points, finishing behind first-ranked Northern Arizona, second-ranked BYU and eighteenth-ranked Washington.
The Irish were led by senior Yared Nuguse, who placed 8th overall in the 8K race in a time of 23:16.0. Junior teammate Danny Kilrea was right behind, finishing in 9th. The other scorers for the Irish were sophomore Jake Renfree, junior Dylan Jacobs and senior Andrew Alexander.
Head men’s cross country coach Sean Carlson shared his thoughts on his team’s performance.
“We weren’t exactly thrilled about the result,” Carlson said. ”I thought it was a very necessary race for us to have and kind of know what we need to adjust moving forward over the next six weeks before nationals.”
Carlson discussed how he believes his team is still in very good shape leading up to the national meet in six weeks.
“I think we are in a really good place,” he explained. “I’m not overly concerned that the result wasn’t what we wanted, but it is a good reminder that there is a sense of urgency to start that process of getting to where we need to be going into the national meet.”
Carlson was very pleased with Renfree’s performance last week.
“Jake ran really well, and he is becoming a very accountable guy in his performance,” Carlson said. “At conference last fall, he really showed up and got the job done.”
Carlson was also pleased with how Kilrea performed, and he discussed his confidence in Nuguse and Jacobs going forward.
“I feel pretty confident that guys like Yared and Dylan can certainly run with or ahead of Danny, but they’re just at a little bit different points in their training right now,” Carlson said. “In another six weeks, they’ll be fine.”
Carlson discussed how important it was for his team to race against the top two teams in the country, Northern Arizona and BYU.
“Our goal is to really start to close that gap over the next six weeks between those two teams,” Carlson said. “One of our primary goals this year is to place in the top four and podium [at nationals]. How much we can close the gap on those two teams that are probably realistically going to be the two favorites will be interesting.”
Carlson hopes that down the road his team can be competitive with the perennial cross country powers such as Northern Arizona and BYU.
“I think us going out there and racing them was an important step for all of our guys to kind of see where we’re at,” he said. “We want to have more experiences where we’re competing against them because our hope over the next few years is that we can really start to be in the conversation with them.”
There will be no more meets for the Irish before nationals in six weeks, but Carlson is hoping that his team can use this time to train hard and focus on the main goal of performing well at the national meet.
“We can get in good training over the next six weeks as a program. On one side, we’ve tended to struggle a little bit early in the year and then really kind of run well at the end when it matters,” Carlson said. “I think a lot of times, it’s very easy to get caught up and think we got to run well here and sometimes sacrifice that end goal to be able to do that. I have tried to not look at what’s immediately ahead of me all the time, but instead look a little bit more at the big picture.”
In the fall, the Irish had six weeks off before the conference meet, and Carlson believes that his team learned a lot from that experience.
“We saw … the kind of adjustments we thought we needed to make,” Carlson said. “And we’re going to basically make those adjustments now over these next six weeks. One of the important parts of our sport is to have a lot of data and to be able to see the things that work and don’t work. And that’s all so that we can have … a better idea of what we’re getting into.”
The national meet will take place on March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.