Irish cross country places second at national meet
Nate Moller | Thursday, March 18, 2021
The cross country men’s team made a statement this past Monday in Stillwater, Oklahoma by taking second place in the NCAA cross country championships. That finish is the best the Irish have had since winning the meet in 1957.
The Irish finished the meet with 87 points, trailing only Northern Arizona who placed four runners in the top nine and finished with 60 points.
Head coach Sean Carlson was proud of how his team persevered over the last kilometer of the 10-kilometer race despite the challenging nature of the course and the 20 mph winds.
“Over the last kilometer, we knew it was going to get hard for everybody, and the teams that really had a purpose of why they were running were going to be the ones that had the most success and held themselves together,” Carlson said. “And it obviously worked out pretty well for us.”
The original plan, Carlson said, was to have two packs. One with senior Yared Nuguse, junior Dylan Jacobs and junior Danny Kilrea towards the front, and their second pack near the top 60.
Carlson explained how the race played out for his team.
“Both packs were out a little bit further up than I had anticipated, and obviously, it still worked out,” he said. “Yared and Dylan kind of paid a little bit of a price for running alone in the wind for quite a while. But fortunately, we had our second pack there to pick them up over the last kilometer.”
The Irish ended up placing their top five guys in the top 25, with the five runners finishing close together.
Carlson explained how an effort like this would usually earn a team first place in a typical year, but this time, it was not quite enough against the talent that Northern Arizona possesses.
“I had a lot of coaches coming up to me and telling me that we are the best second-place team ever that they know of at NCAAs,” he said. “There’s a little bit of bittersweetness that comes with that. Normally, 87 points scored would have won a national meet for the past 25 years.”
The Irish finished with six all-Americans on the day, and they were led by Kilrea, who finished tenth in a time of 30:11.5.
Carlson discussed how Kilrea’s performance on Monday showed how much he has grown over the last couple of years.
“I think it makes it even more special for him to be in the top 10 given that he’s gone through some challenges,” Carlson said. “I’m just really proud of Danny, for how he’s grown and matured over the last couple of years. I think that’s the thing I’m more proud of than his 10th place.”
Kilrea was followed by a pack of four Irish runners with Jacobs, senior Andrew Alexander, sophomore Jake Renfree and Nuguse finishing in 20th through 23rd place, respectively. All four runners finished within a second of each other, completing the race in just over 30:25. First-year Josh Methner was the sixth Irish runner to receive all-American accolades, finishing in 36th place with a time of 30:43.5.
Carlson talked about what it means for Notre Dame to finish on the podium in a sport like cross country that usually has only a few blue blood programs.
“It’s a huge step for our program,” he said. “If you look at the blue bloods across the country or teams that have been on the podium in the past 10 years in cross country nationals, you can count them on one hand basically … Now we know that we’re certainly capable of it.”
All six all-American runners will be returning for the Irish next year. Beyond that, Carlson believes that his team has built a foundation for success that will last for years to come.
“I think we have the recruiting classes and the pieces to continue to have our men on the podium well into the future,” Carlson said. “… We’ve created a system where our talent and our success can be sustainable, which is just not usually the case at the NCAA level.”
The runners on the second-place team will not have much of a break, as their outdoor track season will begin next week with a meet in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Carlson discussed what the plan is for the outdoor track season going forward.
“Provided that our guys from cross country bounce back well, we’re going to race them [in Raleigh] because they’re really fit right now and we haven’t really over-raced or anything like that,” Carlson said. “So, the plan will be to go there, get some reasonable marks out of the way, and then go back to resetting and getting back to training to get ready for conference.”