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ND Cross Country

Cross country has historic season, track and field eyes success in postseason

| Friday, May 21, 2021

It was a bizarre year for cross country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with the national meet taking place at the beginning of March rather than its usual November date. Despite this, the men’s cross country team managed to finish second in the country, which was good for their best finish since 1957.

The Irish had six All-Americans at the national meet and five runners in the top 25. The All-Americans were junior Danny Kilrea, senior Yared Nuguse, senior Andrew Alexander, junior Jake Renfree and freshman Josh Methner.

With all six of these runners returning for the Irish next year, the Irish are primed for success going forward, and head coach Sean Carlson is excited for the upcoming years.

“I think we have the recruiting classes and the pieces to continue to have our men podium well into the future. I think 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,” Carlson said. “I really think we have put ourselves in a position to make the podium and continue to do that moving forward.”

The top finisher for the Irish at the national meet was Danny Kilrea, who finished the 8K race in 30:11.5 which was good for tenth place in the country.

Carlson discussed how much Kilrea has matured as a runner and person since his freshman year.

“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 tenth place. It’s just how much he’s matured from freshman year until now as a person,” Carlson said.

Carlson discussed what it meant for his program to take second at the national meet.

“It’s a huge step for our program. 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. It’s a pretty small group,” Carlson said. “I think the thing that it means for us in the future is now we know that we’e certainly capable of it.”

Photo Courtesy of ND Athletics

Irish freshman Jake Renfree [left] runs alongside senior teammate Andrew Alexander during the NCAA Cross Country Championship on Mar. 15.

The women’s team also had a successful year with some new runners stepping up and improving over the course of the season.

Although head coach Matt Sparks decided not to take his team to nationals this year, he was still proud of his team’s performance over the course of the year.

“I would call [the season] respectable,” Sparks said. “We were still in the top half of the conference meet and were only 15 points out of second place.”

Sparks believes that this year was a great learning experience for his runners as well.

“I think a lot of the women learned that everyone counts,” Sparks said. “You can’t count on someone else to pick up the slack if you don’t perform.”

Although Sparks “pulled the plug” on the cross country season by deciding not to bring his team to nationals, he believes this was the right choice and that it helped his women get ready for the track season.

“They didn’t want to go out and perform if they knew that they weren’t going to be ready for something. And as a result of taking that reset to the season, right now we’ve got ten women already qualified for the regional [track] meet where traditionally we only qualified five or six for the regional meet,” Sparks said. “There’s a newfound confidence amongst the group that just wasn’t there in February when we were running that awkward winter cross country season.”

Sparks mentioned sophomore Olivia Markezich as a runner who has really developed over the course of the cross country season and into the track season.

“She had an okay [cross country] season but since some of those struggles in cross country, she qualified in indoor nationals as an individual and she’s one of the favorites in the conference going into the steeplechase and one of the top eight to ten marks in the country in track and field now,” Sparks said. “She had a respectable cross country season, which led to an elite indoor and outdoor track season.”

Since the end of the cross country season, track and field has been in action as well. Some of the highlights for the Irish in the indoor season included senior Rachel Tanczos taking second in the weight throw and freshman Jadin O’Brien finishing fourth in the country in the heptathlon.

The highlight of the outdoor season so far was arguably this past weekend in the Oregon Twilight Meet at historic Hayward Field where Yared Nuguse recorded the fastest outdoor 1500m time by an American in 2021. Nuguse used his signature kick to win the race by 0.01 seconds in a time of 3:35.96.

The outdoor season is starting to really ramp up with the ACC Championships slated to take place this weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Irish will look to qualify as many runners as possible for the regional and national meets scheduled to take place at the end of May and middle of June.

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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.

Contact Nate