ND track and field prepares for success at ACC Championships
Nate Moller | Thursday, May 6, 2021
Notre Dame track and field will be back in action in a week and a half in the biggest outdoor meet of the year so far at the ACC Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina.
For the first time since the pandemic began, the whole team will be competing in one place, and head coach Matt Sparks discussed his team’s excitement for this opportunity.
“What we’re excited about is that this will be the first time since indoor track 2020 pre-COVID that we’ve had the entire track team together for competition,” Sparks said.
Because of the bizarre nature of the season with cross country occurring at the same time and limitations on the amount of athletes allowed at meets, Sparks said he is excited to see his whole team competing in front of him at the same time.
“This will be the first time where we’re putting everybody together nationally in their strong event for the same meet at the same time,” Sparks said. “It will be fun to see everybody at their best, which we haven’t done since we hosted the conference meet — which seems like five years ago, in 2020.”
Sparks also said he is eager to see senior distance runner Yared Nuguse back in action at the conference meet, but Nuguse will have another special race this Friday in Oregon where he will attempt to run an olympic qualifying time in the 1,500-meter run.
“Yared is going to complete this Friday in Oregon in a meet that will in all likelihood establish a collegiate record for someone,” Sparks said. “[Oregon distance runner] Cole Hocker just broke the collegiate record in the indoor mile, and Yared Nuguse is the defending NCAA champion in the 1,500. They’re racing each other Friday night in an effort to hit the Olympic Qualifying Standard which is 3:35.00 for 1,500 meters.”
In addition to seeing Yared with his teammates at the conference meet, Sparks said he is excited to see the women’s distance squad back in action as well. Sparks has been impressed with their performance over the course of the track season so far.
“Our women’s distance runners have really stepped up this spring,” Sparks said. “We took a bit of a hiatus from competitive running because we were struggling a little bit in cross country … And I think that really helped the group thrive and be where we are right now.”
Sparks expects a lot from the throwers as well, especially from senior Rachel Tanczos and graduate student Maura Kimmel.
“Our throwers traditionally have always stepped up come conference time,” Sparks said.
Sparks also mentioned he is looking forward to see the graduate student transfers participate at the ACC Championships. Kimmel, distance runner Katie Wasserman and distance runners Colin and Will Daly are all graduate student transfers from the Ivy League who have made a big impact for the Irish so far this season.
Sparks said he believes these transfers have helped the team beyond being successful at meets as well.
“Ivy League schools don’t get to compete at the Ivies for their fifth year, so they’re always looking for places to go for their graduate transfer fifth year, and we have become a landing spot for a lot of kids,” Sparks said. “And those kids bring a level of experience to the table that your freshmen and sophomores don’t have, from a competition standpoint, that really lends itself to success. From a leadership perspective, it’s nice to have a few more grown-ups in the team huddle before the race, and that’s what those athletes are doing.”
First-year Jadin O’Brien will also be back in action this weekend in the heptathlon after starting the season off slowly due to a nagging injury.
“We are just trying to bring it along slowly because the hope would be for her to compete until the end of June through the Olympic Trials,” Sparks said. “We want to make sure that she is healthy and peaking at the right time.”
Junior pole vaulter Colton Crum, who is the indoor champion from this past season, will be competing as well.
“I expect for Colton to compete for another championship on the men’s side of the pole vault,” Sparks said.
Sparks said he noticed the energy in his team last weekend at the home meet at the Harris Family Track and Field Stadium despite not having a good portion of the team competing.
“We kind of thought that meet wouldn’t have a lot of energy to it, but having everybody at the venue … Obviously we didn’t compete some of our elite kids, but everybody on the roster was at the meet,” Sparks said. “The kids that go to the national meets [and didn’t compete last weekend] were more excited to see their friends compete at home, and see their friends experience success in front of their classmates and their parents.”
Sparks believes that meet excited his team even more for the conference meet.
“It rallied us all to get ready for the conference meet even though we have been a little segregated, obviously, with COVID for the last 15 months,” Sparks said. “This will be the first time we have a whole group on a bus or plane to travel together. And I think competing last week at home really unified the group for the first time in a year and a half.”
After the conference meet, the Irish will look towards the East Regional which will take place at the end of May. For each individual event, the top 48 student athletes in the eastern United States qualify for the regional meet, making the conference meet vital for qualification standards. The conference meet will take place over the course of May 13-15.