The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this past weekend with the women finishing in seventh place and the men finishing 15th. The women finished with 261 points, and the men finished with 452 points.
Head coach Matt Sparks said that both teams were hoping to finish higher coming into the race.
“We were kind of on the back end of what our goals were. The women were hoping for a top-four or five finish. The men were hoping for top ten, and they were obviously just off of that,” Sparks said.
Markezich leads women
Junior Olivia Markezich led the way for the women, finishing the 6K race eighth overall with a time of 19:46.4. That performance was good for Markezich’s second consecutive All-American honor.
“The highlights were some of the big individual performances that you saw. Olivia’s finish in eighth and just a couple of seconds out of finishing top five was just another step for her in being one of the elite women’s distance runners in America,” Sparks said.
Sophomore Erin Strzelecki was the second runner for the Irish, finishing in 54th place with a time of 20:17.8. Senior Katie Thronson, who came in 68th place, followed Strzelecki as the third Irish runner.
Solomon, Steury highlight men’s performances
On the men’s side, sophomore Carter Solomon led Notre Dame. He earned All-American honors with an 18th place finish and a 29:18.8 time in the 10K race. Freshman Izaiah Steury was the second Irish runner to cross the line, finishing 63rd with a time of 30:13.7.
“For Carter Solomon, at his first NCAA championships ever, to finish 18th was a nice step for him. On the course, he has become a great leader for our program, and off the course as well. He’s really found his voice,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be neat to see him grow within the program and have the program follow him over the next couple of years.”
Sparks also commented on Steury’s strong finish as a true freshman:
“Izaiah Steury was really frustrated with his race, but when we looked back on it, he was the first true freshman finisher in the competition. There were a couple of redshirt kids that beat him. It shows how veteran experience was important at the front of that field, especially on the men’s side,” Sparks said.
Slow start sets Irish behind pace
While there were individual highlights, Sparks wished that his team had gotten out to an overall faster start in Saturday’s race.
“The field is very crowded and there is a lot of parity amongst the individuals and teams out there. Not a whole lot is going to change among the team scores within the last half of the race. We have to get out and put ourselves in the position we want to be in early in the race. Those that did that were Olivia, Carter and Izaiah, and they held onto those spots really well,” Sparks said.
Those slow starts plagued the Irish all year, but throughout the season, the Irish had gained spots late in races. On the biggest stage, they failed to repeat the feat.
“On Saturday we had some kids that hoped to get out faster in the race, and they just couldn’t find themselves to the front of the race early in the competition. They spent the last three-quarters of the race trying to make up places, and they just couldn’t do it with the talented field they were competing against,” Sparks said.
Bright future after young stars shine
With plenty of talent returning next year, Sparks is excited to see his top runners continue to grow and lead the program, especially with some talented freshmen that are ready to step up as well.
“The front ends of our teams are young, which bodes well for a year from now,” Sparks said. “The youth of the team is what led us on Saturday and that’s the same group that we are going to need going forward. We redshirted a really talented group of freshmen that we will expect to fill in some gaps as we graduate some of the older guys we have in the program.”
With the cross country season over, Sparks turns his attention to the indoor track season where he hopes the Irish can continue to find success in the distance medley relay and other distance events on the track.
“We have a great tradition in the distance medley relay, and I would like to build upon that and still stay in the front of the national scene. We have had a lot of success in the 10K and steeplechase with both genders. The athletes that you saw leading the way for us during cross country we hope will excel in those events when we get on the track,” Sparks said.
Contact Nate Moller at email@example.com.