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Irish cross country dominates, Belles battle at National Catholic Invite

Notre Dame cross country swept Friday’s National Catholic Invite, with both the women’s and men’s teams winning handily in their home opener. A field of 15 Catholic institutions from around the country (14 in the men’s race) was no match for the nationally ranked Irish squads, both of whom won by over 50 points.

The afternoon meet began with the women’s race, which saw several top Irish runners make their season debut. The No. 6 Irish got into a strong position right off of the opening gun, with a pack of five Notre Dame runners behind Loras runner Kassie Parker, the defending Division III individual national champion. The top six runners were on their own for a majority of the race, with an advantage of nearly thirty seconds over the rest of the competition.

Over the course of the race, the Irish runners fought to close the gap, but Parker never relinquished the lead as she crossed the finish line first in a time of 17:02.1, a school record and a huge PR in the 5k. From there, it was all Irish, as six Notre Dame runners in a row followed Parker. Junior All-American Olivia Markezich finished in second in 17:13.0 and was closely followed by senior Katie Thronson and sophomore Sonia Chisholm (who ran unattached), a pair of transfers who provided strong performances in their Irish debuts.

Notre Dame sophomore Erin Strzelecki earned fifth place and graduate student Anna Sophia Keller and freshman Sophie Novak took sixth and seventh to complete the Irish’s front pack. Of the Irish’s first six finishers, all but Novak — who took third at the Winrow-Valparaiso Invite earlier in the year — were racing for the first time this season as a team expected to contend for ACC and national championships began to show its strength.

Saint Mary’s made the short trip to Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course to compete and the Belles ran well against a competitive field, finishing in fourteenth place. Belles head coach Jackie Bauters praised the team’s performance after the meet, especially given the extremely warm conditions.

“Overall, I feel like we ran well,” Bauters said. “Some people had PRs today, some people had season bests, and I feel like we ran tough. It was hot for everybody, and I think it’s hard to perform for some people in the heat. I was really happy that we had a lot of good packs and pairs.”

Saint Mary’s was led by sophomore Amanda Tracy, who finished seventy-first with a time of 20:20. The other four scorers all came in within a ten second period. Senior Anna Demars took 80, sophomore Susanna Bernovich was 84 and in 86 and 87 were freshman Isabelle Auch and senior Angela Bannan.

Bauters emphasized the importance of the runners staying close together and pushing each other, especially in a meet against unfamiliar opponents where it can be difficult to gauge position against the rest of the field.

“We don’t compete against any of these teams otherwise during the year, so it’s not something where we’re trying to be super competitive with a [specific] team,” Bauters said. “We really wanted to see our packs continue to work together and we did that today.”

As Saint Mary’s shifts their attention to the NCAA Division III Preview meet in two weeks, they will look to build on this effort while working hard in order to reach the next level.

“We have to get more comfortable in that second mile,” Bauters explained. “I think that’s where, mentally and physically, it just drops off. We’re going to be working to get them uncomfortable for a while so they can get more comfortable [during races].”

The men’s race was next, and the No. 13 Irish were in a class of their own from start to finish as they took each of the top ten places for the second meet in a row, having also accomplished this feat at Valparaiso in early September. Just like the women’s team, the Notre Dame lineup featured several top runners in their first appearances of the season. One of those runners, sophomore Carter Solomon, took home the victory, finishing the five-mile course in 24:35.0. Freshman Izaiah Steury, coming off of a win in his first ever college race at Valparaiso, pushed Solomon all the way to the line and finished in a close second (24:39.7).

The seemingly endless string of Notre Dame runners continued, as the Irish put eight more across the line before there was a single finisher from an opposing team. Junior Carter Cheeseman finished in third, and senior Matthew Carmody and sophomore Ryan Schumacher were hot on his heels to seal the perfect score.

Up next for Notre Dame is their final home meet of the season, the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invite on Sept. 30. The Irish will be put to the test as the meet is expected to bring one of the deepest and most talented fields of any regular season meet in the country this year. On Oct. 1, Saint Mary’s will head to Olivet College, the site of this year’s Division III National Championship, for the Division III Preview meet.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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