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Irish track and field has record-breaking weekend at Ole Miss invitational

| Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Notre Dame track and field team participated in the Joe Walker Invite at Ole Miss this past weekend. There were solid performances all around, especially in the throws and the heptathlon.

Head coach Matt Sparks explained how the success of senior thrower Rachel Tanczos last year led many graduate students to transfer to Notre Dame.

“We kind of have a unique situation going on with our throwers group right now,” Sparks said. “A lot of it started with Rachel Tanczos having success at the conference level, which led to success on the national level a year ago, which led to graduate transfers being interested in our program.”

One of these graduate transfers is Maura Kimmel, who set the Notre Dame school record in the discus at Ole Miss with a mark of 55.63 meters.

Sparks discussed how getting healthy has allowed Kimmel to reach her full potential.

“Maura is a graduate transfer from UPenn and had some injury problems there that kept her from reaching her full potential,” he said. “And now she’s just been healthy and been able to practice to her full capacity whereas previously she had some aches and pains where she really had to limit herself. And Coach [Adam] Beltran has done a really good job of recognizing her strengths and keeping her healthy and allowing her to go out and do what she has probably always been capable of.”

Tanczos previously held the school record in the discus, and Sparks expects this friendly competition between Kimmel and Tanczos to help both athletes going forward.

“I think they have a good competitive rivalry [in the discus],” Sparks said. “There’s that friendly little rivalry that’s going on with those two who are able to train together and compete together and push each other to national level success.”

It was also a successful weekend for the Irish in the heptathlon, with freshman Alaina Brady taking first place with 5,137 points. That puts Brady fourth on the all-time Irish lists. Freshman Madison Schmidt also placed fourth in the event with 4,791 points.

Sparks discussed the difficulty of finding heptathletes like Alaina Brady and freshman Jadin O’Brien because the event does not exist at the high school level.

“Alaina and Jadin had competed really well, if you go back to that indoor meet, in that newer event for them, which is kind of the unique nature of that event,” he said. “It’s not competed at the high school level at the state meets and things like that. It really takes a keen coaching eye, which Coach [Rodney] Zuyderwyk is the coach that oversees the multi events, that recognizes a kid that’s going to excel once you get them to college and start piecing together all those unique events that make up one competitive event.”

Sparks is excited to see O’Brien back in action this weekend. O’Brien finished fourth in the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships just over a month ago.

“So she sat out the first half of the outdoor season with some aches and pains, but she’s going to compete in the multi this weekend at Indiana State,” Sparks said.

Like the throws group, Sparks is excited about the culture within the heptathlete group right now.

“You need to have a positive supportive culture to be successful as an entire group,” he said. “They definitely have that going now where she and Jadin feed off each other to be more successful.”

Sparks mentioned the performance of graduate student Lauren Sapone in the 3000m steeplechase as another highlight of the weekend. Sapone finished third with a time of 10:07.92.

“She was at Dartmouth for four years and then came here, with only outdoor eligibility, with an emphasis to compete on a national level in the steeplechase,” Sparks said. “She had some injuries in the fall that had us wondering if she was going to be back to where she thought she could be when she got here. And right now she’s 13th in the country in that event after her performance on Friday. That performance was a breakthrough for her mentally and physically.”

The postseason is quickly approaching for the Irish, with the conference championships just under a month away and then the regional and national meets after that.

Sparks is very confident in his team’s ability to qualify lots of individuals for the national meets at the end of the season.

“We feel confident that we’re going to take more people to the national championship than we had in a long time,” Sparks said. “The regular season is really all about building to those national meets. And we feel like we’ve had a great buildup for the first three or four weeks, which allowed us to take this weekend off honestly.”

O’Brien will be the only athlete competing this weekend, but the rest of the squad will be back in action the following weekend with meets at Louisville and Drake.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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