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Track and Field

Track and field travels to Blacksburg for ACC Championships

and | Friday, February 25, 2022

The Irish track and field team begins its indoor championship season this weekend at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The meet started Thursday night with the multi-event athletes and the distance medley relay team competing and will be followed by the remaining events Friday and Saturday. Friday’s races will consist of mostly preliminary qualifying events, but the 5000m finals and some field event finals will take place on Friday as well.

The Virginia Tech men and Florida State women enter the weekend as defending conference champions. 

The Irish look poised to challenge for the team title on both the men’s and women’s side. The Notre Dame men are the highest-ranked ACC team in the latest poll from the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Irish come in at No. 7 ahead of No. 13 Florida State and No. 23 Clemson. 

The Notre Dame women are currently No. 12 in the country, just behind No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 11 NC State and ahead of No. 25 Duke. 

Head coach Matt Sparks organized travel in a way to get his athletes there well before they are scheduled to compete.

“You want to get to the meet 36 hours before so you may get on the track and kind of get a lay of the land,” Sparks said. “You want to get there and do a little mini-workout before you compete the next day.”

Distance medley relay team entered with high expectations

“The distance medley relays are always a point of pride for our program,” Sparks said before the meet started. “We just broke both school records and set us up nationally to do well.”

The women’s DMR team that competed on Thursday night consisted of graduate student Erin Sullivan, freshman Eve Balseiro, graduate student Katie Ryan and junior Olivia Markezich. They currently sit at third place in the NCAA with their best time, but they finished fourth Thursday night. 

Nuguse, Jacobs anchor men’s side

There were few substitutions on the men’s side compared to last week’s record-setting team. Yared Nuguse anchored again this weekend. The Irish graduate student broke an 18-year-old NCAA record in the 3000-meter with a time of 7:38.13, beating a field of 133 runners at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University two weeks ago. 

“Anytime you have Yared [Nuguse] on the end of a relay, you expect big things,” Sparks said.

Nuguse anchored the unit en route to a second-place finish Thursday night. The Louisville, Kentucky, native also already had held the NCAA record in his strongest event, the 1500-meter. He ran a 3:34.68 in the prelims during the Outdoor ACC Championships last May en route to defending his ACC Outdoor Title. Nuguse was the national champion in the 1500m in 2019 and the runner-up in 2020. 

The three-time All-American qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after finishing third in the US Olympic Trials, though he did not compete due to a quad strain. The reigning ACC Cross-Country Runner and Outdoor Track Performer of the Year also set a conference record in the men’s mile with a 3:54.46 run at the Notre Dame Invitational on Jan. 22. 

Sparks is also hopeful that senior Dylan Jacobs can qualify for the national meet in the 3000m event. Jacobs ran a spectacular 5000m race a couple of weeks ago to rank him fourth in the country in that event, and Sparks is confident Jacobs can find success in the 3000m as well.

“We feel like he can make the national meet in the 3K as well and establish himself as a national track athlete where he has already done that in cross country,” Sparks said.

A team of senior Samuel Voelz and graduate students Max Frye, Time Zepf and Nuguse set the conference record in the DMR with a time of 9:21.73, beating the previous mark by over four seconds. Notre Dame’s DMR last brought home the conference title in 2020.

New performers stepping up

Sparks takes pride in athletes who perform better than expected at the ACC Championships.

“The thing we take a lot of pride in here is the kids that we expect to do well like Yared Nuguse, Olivia Markezich, and [graduate student thrower] Rachel Tanczos always step up and perform well,” Sparks said. “But the thing we take pride in is guys like [sophomore] Nolan Blachowski who was all-conference last year as a freshman in the men’s pole vault. There are people like that who you maybe won’t expect to do it on paper, but they step up and get it done.”

Sparks hopes that under-the-radar athletes like Blachowski can rise to the occasion and contribute to the team’s score.

“[Blachowski] is a guy we are looking for a big improvement this year. Right now he is not slated to score in this meet. But last year, he wasn’t either and he found a way to rise to the occasion and contribute,” Sparks said. “We are looking for people like that to break out of their routine from what they have done throughout the year.”

Record-setting throwers back in action

Sparks is excited to see Rachel Tanczos compete this weekend at a meet that put her on the map nationally a couple of years ago.

“This is where she had her coming out party — her sophomore year at Virginia Tech where she won the conference championship out of the blue and rose to national prominence after that,” Sparks said. “Her last indoor competition at the conference level should be fun to watch.”

Graduate student Rachel Tanczos came within two centimeters of winning the national title in the weight throw last year but was bested by Louisville’s Makenli Forrest’s final throw. The two are poised for another showdown this weekend. 

Qualifying athletes for the NCAA Indoor Championships in three weeks is also very important. The top-16 marks in each event qualify for the meet, and Sparks hopes that sophomore thrower Michael Shoaf can move up the list. Shoaf broke his own program record in the shot put last weekend, finishing first in the event with a 19.48-meter toss. He finished 22nd in the event in the NCAA Outdoor National Championships last year. 

“Shoaf is just on the outside of the national top-16 list. We would like to see if he can find a couple of more inches to make the national meet and to help the men’s chances at the national meet,” Sparks said. “Right now the men are ranked seventh in the country and the women are ranked 12th. Any extra person we can sneak in there and maybe get a point or two would be helpful.”

The entirety of the ACC Championships can be streamed Friday and Saturday on ESPN.

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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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