ND Cross Country
Cross country to open season at Valpo Invite
Nate Moller | Friday, September 3, 2021
The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will be kicking off their season this Friday at the Windrow-Valparaiso Open.
Although both teams will not run their top runners at Friday’s meet, both coaches are excited to see the depth of their team and the performance of younger athletes.
Women’s head cross country coach Matt Sparks discussed the importance of Friday’s meet.
“In our minds, it’s an exhibition type meet to see some of the women step up in a leadership role that don’t normally have that responsibility. It gives us a sense of who did work over the summer, and who is maybe ready to step into a different position,” Sparks said.
Sparks hopes to discover the depth of his team at Friday’s race.
“We have a good idea of who our top 5-7 are, but we get to compete ten at the conference meet,” Sparks said. “This will give us an idea of how deep we are.”
Sparks said that he expects senior Jackie Gaughan and graduate student transfer Maddie King to lead the way for the Irish on Friday. King is a transfer from Ole Miss where she competed in their top seven.
Sparks also hopes that freshman Kate Wiser and graduate student transfer Lauren Bailey can step up for the Irish this season, although they will not be competing on Friday.
The top three runners for the Irish seem pretty clear cut right now with junior Olivia Markezich, senior Maddy Denner, and senior Katie Rose Blachowicz leading the way for the Irish.
Sparks hopes that the combination of returners and new faces will lead to success for the Irish this season.
“We’ve got those three returners to go along with the newcomers that I think can give us as a team when it’s all said and done a chance at progressing towards a top 10 finish at the national team,” Sparks said.
The big meets ahead of the postseason for the Irish include the Joe Piane Invitational and the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational in October.
Sparks discussed the goals for the season, which include placing well at the ACC Championships held at Notre Dame this year and placing top ten nationally.
“We’ve got four teams in our conference that are probably going to be battling for top ten in the country. NC State was runner-up at nationals last year, and they returned everybody from that team, so that’s going to be a tough one to overcome. North Carolina and Virginia are two other teams that we will be battling with at the conference level, but also for a top ten spot nationally,” Sparks said.
The men will be taking a similar approach to the women’s team this Friday with their top runners not competing.
Men’s head cross country coach Sean Carlson is excited to see sophomore Carter Solomon compete on Friday.
“This will be his first race in the Notre Dame jersey in cross country. I think by the end of the year, he could be someone that surprises some people. It might be a little bit of a slow start, but I am excited to get some more guys some more racing experience,” Carlson said.
Carlson explained the racing plan for the team and veteran runners going forward this season.
“The goal of this weekend is to be just kind of a rust buster. Two weeks from now at the National Catholic Invite, we’ll get some more young guys experience too because we probably won’t race some of the older guys that will be racing at the national meet until the later parts of the year,” Carlson said. “Because we are so competitive and so good right now, it allows us to try and get some other guys experience at the beginning of the year.”
Carlson said that while he plans on racing many of his top runners for the first time at the pre-national meet at Florida State on October 15th, he won’t race his full roster of top runners until conference and nationals.
“We’re really trying to focus on our goal of running really well at the national meet,” Carlson said. “We might not pull out all of our cards out of the deck in the earlier part of the year.”
The Irish placed second at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last year, and they return six cross country All-Americans to the roster this year. Carlson discussed how he hopes to see improvements in cross country from seniors Dylan Jacobs and Matthew Carmody, who both had tremendous track seasons in the spring.
Carlson also is interested to see how graduate student transfer Anthony Russo will perform this year.
“It will be interesting to see where he fits into the whole picture, but he is certainly another guy that can vie for one of our spots heading into the national meet,” Carlson said.
The men’s team comes into the season ranked number two in the coaches’ poll and number one in FloTrack rankings. With these high expectations, Carlson hopes his team can relax and focus on what is in front of them.
“We’re trying not to become obsessed with the national meet. We’re striving to become obsessed with being the best version of ourselves every day. I think if we do that, we are going to find ourselves in a really good position at the national meet,” Carlson said. “I think when you obsess about rankings and what place we are going to be, this is the added stress and pressure that you can’t control and it isn’t necessary. We are just trying to keep it fun and stay relaxed and stay in a good position to be happy and healthy going into nationals.”
The women’s 5K will begin at 5 p.m. and the men’s 6K will begin at 5:45 p.m. on Friday.