Irish compete on national stage in cross country and track
Nate Moller | Friday, May 13, 2022
Cross Country teams win regionals, take fifth and ninth at nationals
The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams put together another strong fall season with both teams winning their NCAA regionals. The men’s team also won the ACC title en route as both squads qualified for the national championships. Both teams then went on to make a statement on the national stage. The women took fifth, and the men claimed ninth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Head women’s track and field and cross country coach Matt Sparks discussed how the women’s team didn’t seem to be clicking at the beginning of the season.
“There was a lot of anxiety in late September and through the conference meet. We knew we had the roster and talent to be really competitive, but the races and workouts and the confidence and the conditioning just weren’t all on the same page,” Sparks said.
Sparks thought the regional meet was when everything started to come together.
“It got all started with the regional race with [senior] Maddy [Denner] and [junior] Olivia [Markezich] really stepping up and finishing first and second,” Sparks said. “Those two gained a lot of confidence that day, but the entire team gained confidence at the regional meet coming away with a win.”
The Irish then followed up this performance with a fantastic race at nationals to take home fifth in the nation. The Irish return Denner and Markezich next year, along with sophomore Erin Strzelecki. Strzelecki finished fourth on the team at nationals.
Sparks was proud of his team’s patience and trust in the training, despite poor performances early in the season. “They stayed confident in who they were. They didn’t lose faith in what the vision was,” Sparks said.
The men’s season was different from the women’s in the sense that they performed well throughout the season. They won the conference and regional meet. However, they struggled at nationals and came in ninth, despite expecting to finish in the top-5.
Head men’s track and field and cross country coach Sean Carlson shared that the conference meet was the high point of the season. The Irish easily won first place with just 32 points and had eight runners earn All-American status.
The team also won the regional meet, but the Irish did not perform as well at nationals. Despite the poor performance, Carlson took a lot of positives out of the ninth-place finish.
“Between conference and regionals I thought we were on a roll, but nationals did not go quite as we planned. The thing to take away from it is that even on a bad day, we are still ninth at nationals, which I think says a lot about our program,” Carlson said. “Things didn’t go our way. But for a bad day to be ninth at nationals, that’s still pretty good.”
Although the Irish will lose some key talent from this season, they should have another competitive team, as they will return plenty of top runners and add a strong recruiting class before next season.
“We have a solid four and then we are really going to need another guy to step up,” Carlson said.
Irish indoor track and field finds regular-season success
The Irish also had a lot of success in the recent indoor track season as well, and sophomore Jadin O’Brien was one of the highlights with her first-place heptathlon performance at the ACC Indoor Championships.
Sparks discussed the impact that O’Brien’s victory had on the whole team at the conference meet.
“Typically [the heptathlon] event is the first event to be contested. And so whenever you can start off with a good, positive experience and win an ACC Championship with the first event on the schedule, I think it gives the entire team a lot of confidence for the next day or two as they compete,” Sparks said.
The men’s team had some special performances as well during the regular season. Graduate student Yared Nuguse set the collegiate record in the 3000m with a time of 7:38.13. Senior Dylan Jacobs ran the fourth fastest 5000m time in school history.
Despite the regular-season success, the Irish men struggled some in the postseason meets. Sparks hopes that this is something the Irish can improve on in coming seasons.
“It’s trying to strike a balance between running fast in the regular season, but also running fast in the postseason,” Sparks said. “One of the standby goals for the team is to be top 20 in the country in all three sports. The men are just on the outside of that from the indoor national meet.”
Irish open outdoor season with early strength
While the season remains unfinished, the Irish put together some strong performances early in the season.
Senior thrower Gabe Diederich was a standout in the Texas Relays where she took first place in the javelin throw and broke her own school record in the process. She extended the record to 49.92 meters a month later at the Indiana Invitational. Diederick finished top three in each meet this season leading into the ACC Championships.
“Whenever you can start off the outdoor season that strong, that bodes well for your future,” Sparks said.
Another standout performance came from graduate student Andrew Alexander who broke a school record at the Raleigh Relays earlier this year, running a time of 28:24.42.
Sparks was excited about Alexander’s performance. “He’s an All-American in cross country a year and a half ago, and he’s finding his stride in his last season of eligibility,” Sparks said. “It’s exciting to see him thrive.”
Jacobs added to an impressive indoor season in the spring. He earned the ACC Track and Field Performer of the Week on April 19. That came after Jacobs broke the school record in the 10K. He won the event at the Mt. Sac Relays in 28:01.94.
The Irish began their postseason meets with the ACC Championships on May 12.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.