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Track and field competes at Notre Dame Invitational

The Notre Dame track and field team competed this weekend at the Notre Dame Invitational with the women’s team finishing second and the men finishing third. The Irish also collected six event titles across both teams.

Although some athletes competed last weekend in Ann Arbor, this was the first competition of 2023 for the majority of Irish athletes. Head coach Matt Sparks used this meet as a tune-up to get back in the swing of competition.

“It’s a good rust buster. We had a small group compete last week in Michigan,” Sparks said.

Sparks acknowledged that his team had a later start to practice this season because of the academic year starting later.

“One unique thing this year is that the academic year started later, so our practice started a little bit later than a lot of the country and teams we compete against,” Sparks said.

Saturday’s meet served as a litmus test and a great opportunity for the Irish to measure where they were after the holiday break.

“This first meet was good to see where everybody’s fitness is and what everybody did over break and grow from there,” Sparks said. “It’s a bit like a pretest at school. We had our pretest, and in about five weeks we will have our conference meet and national meet and see where everybody is.”

Sparks expects all of his athletes to continue to improve as the season goes on.

“There are still a lot of steps to take. We aren’t going to put a lot of emphasis on the good or bad that happened today. We all just need to get better from here,” Sparks said.

Sparks noted a few top performers from the meet. “In the field, [junior thrower] Blake Kusky had a big throw in the weight throw for him. It was a big PR,” Sparks said. Kusky’s throw was a personal record of 18.98m in the weight throw to place third.

Junior thrower Michael Shoaf also had a strong performance in the weight throw, finishing second with a throw of 20.49m. On the women’s side, junior thrower Emma Albano placed third in the weight throw with a distance of 15.89m. Albano also claimed second in the shot put with a toss of 12.83m.

Sparks also praised the performance of sophomore distance runner Sonia Chisholm. Making her Irish debut, Chisholm won the women’s 3000m race with a time of 9:16.46.

“In her first track meet for Notre Dame, [Sonia] ran one of the top ten fastest times in school history,” Sparks said.

The Irish took the two through four spots in the women’s 3000m race as well. Senior Katie Thronson, sophomore Sophie Novak, and sophomore Erin Strzlecki all finished right behind Chisholm. 

The Irish women also took second through fourth in the mile. Graduate student Anna Sophia Keller led the way for the Irish, finishing second in a time of 4:48.02. Graduate student Katie Ryan and sophomore Molly Grant followed Keller, finishing with times of 4:55.19 and 4:56.11, respectively. On the men’s side, junior Carter Cheeseman took first in the mile with a time of 4:07.91.

In the 400m run, sophomore Eve Balseiro took home first place with a time of 55.35. On the men’s side, Joey Dobrydney took third place with a time of 49.16.

In the long jump, sophomore Jadin O’Brien took first place with a mark of 5.78m. Sophomores Alaina Brady and Kendall Burgess took third and fourth in the event with marks of 5.60m. 

In the women’s high jump, sophomore Madison Schmidt won the event with a mark of 1.72m. Senior Arianna Martinez took second with a mark of 1.67m. 

Sparks discussed the varying goals of the individual athletes who competed this weekend.

“The majority of the team is working towards the conference meet and how they can contribute to the team’s success at conference,” Sparks said. “We have 5-10 athletes who have nationals aspirations,” Sparks said. “The regular season builds towards putting themselves in a position to be competitive in Albuquerque in March.”

The Irish are back in action next weekend at the Lenny Lyles Invitational in Louisville, which is where the conference meet will be later on in the season.

“It will be nice to get on that track. ACCs are going to be there, so we will get a feel for what that facility is going to be like,” Sparks said. “It’s just another opportunity to feel out where everybody is at the time,” Sparks said.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Markezich, Solomon earn All-America honors at cross country national meet

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 nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Ticket punched: Irish cross country secures NCAA Championship berth

Notre Dame cross country entered Friday morning’s Great Lakes Regional in Terra Haute, Indiana, needing a top-two finish to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Sure enough, the Irish got the job done. The Notre Dame women won the regional while the men took second, punching their tickets to the national meet next weekend. The win marks the second straight Great Lakes title for the women, and the men qualified for their sixth consecutive NCAA Championship with their finish.

With just one week between the regional and national meets, it was a balancing act for Notre Dame to earn a top-two position while not hurting its prospects at the national meet by overexerting itself.

“We felt really confident in our ability to qualify, it was really more a question of, how much effort do we need to put forth in order to qualify, because it’s still a preliminary meet,” said Irish head coach Matt Sparks. “So the concept is, how controlled and how relaxed can we run and still qualify.”

The No. 5 women’s team came into the meet as heavy favorites after a runner-up performance at the ACC Championship. The Irish used a strong team effort to earn a decisive victory, finishing with a score of 34 points. Runner-up Ohio State was well behind with 111. Notre Dame junior Olivia Markezich led wire-to-wire on her way to winning the individual title. Several more Irish runners followed in quick succession.

Sophomore Siona Chisholm and graduate student Maddy Denner finished in fourth and sixth. Senior Katie Thronson and sophomore Erin Strzelecki both finished in the top twelve, completing the scoring for Notre Dame. Chisholm and Thronson, both transfers in their first season with the Irish, continued to play critical roles for the team.

“You never know how [transfers] are going to adapt to the team culture and chemistry and the training,” Sparks said. “It’s been a seamless transition for both of them. They’ve brought great energy to the team as well.”

Denner, a cross-country All-American last year along with Markezich, is finally healthy after spending most of the season working her way back from injury. She seems to have found her form just in time for the national meet. Sparks believes that she will be vital to the team’s success there.

“The nice piece is that her aches and pains are minimized, so [we’ve been] able to work on her fitness over the last three weeks. That’s where you’ve been able to see her close the gap on where Olivia is,” Sparks said. “We would hope that when we get to Stillwater, they’re able to find each other again at the national meet and give us a really strong one-two punch.”

On the men’s side, the No. 13 Irish faced a difficult test in the form of No. 8 Wisconsin. The challenge was even steeper because graduate student Kevin Berry, one of Notre Dame’s top runners all season, was held out from the race after feeling run down following the conference meet. The Irish could not take the regional title, finishing as a close runner-up to the Badgers. Despite this, they achieved their goal of qualifying for nationals and will go into the meet with the confidence of a team at full strength, as Berry is expected to return.

After winning the individual ACC Championship two weeks prior, sophomore Carter Solomon was out in front for Notre Dame again and continued his impressive season with a fifth-place finish. Freshman Izaiah Steury was the next finisher in sixth. Just as at the ACC meet, Steury was the highest-placing freshman in the race. Sparks spoke about the maturity that has allowed him to compete at such a high level.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence for a freshman in college,” Sparks said. “It will traditionally take two or three years to make the adjustment [from 5k races in high school to 10k races in college]. In his case, it’s taken two or three months.”

Sparks noted that Steury will be aiming to be the top freshman at the NCAA meet. Both he and Solomon will look to earn All-American status by finishing in the top forty places. While the low scores of Solomon and Steury gave the Irish an advantage on Friday, they needed strong efforts from their other scorers to beat out a tight field for the runner-up finish. They got just that. The trio of junior Jake Renfree, senior Matthew Carmody and sophomore Josh Methner all finished in the top-twenty. Renfree had his strongest race of the season. His current form raises Notre Dame’s ceiling for the national meet.

“The guy that really stepped up, that we’ve been waiting for all year to perform, was Jake Renfree,” Sparks said. “He’d had a great couple of weeks of practice since the conference meet, so we gave him a chance at the regional. Jake is someone that’s previously been an All-American for us and I think his confidence and his fitness are kind of gelling all at the right time. He’s somebody that we’d expect to make a big impact [at the NCAA Championships] as well.”

Heading into the national meet, Sparks said the Irish women had the goal of finishing in the top-four. The men, meanwhile, will look for a top-eight position. With just one week remaining in the season, the Irish have done all they can in terms of physical training. They will focus on rest and recovery in the final days leading into the NCAA meet.

“The X’s and O’s of running are done,” Sparks said. “Sleep well, eat well, rest well; that’s kind of kind of the motto for the next week.”

Notre Dame will compete in the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The meet beings at 10 a.m. and is available to watch on ESPNU. The Irish will look to improve on last year’s meet, where the women finished fifth and the men ninth.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Irish men win, women take fourth at competitive Joe Piane Invitational

On Friday morning, Notre Dame cross country hosted the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational. The No. 14 men’s team used a balanced effort to win the meet, while the No. 8 women battled a trio of Top-10 opponents and earned a fourth-place finish.

The meet began with the women’s 5000m, one of the most highly anticipated regular season races in the country this season. Notre Dame head coach Matt Sparks spoke after the meet about the valuable experience that comes from facing elite teams like No. 1 NC State, No. 3 New Mexico and No. 10 Alabama.

“[The meet] gives us a taste of where we need to be [and] what we need to work toward over the next eight weeks as we prepare for the national championship,” Sparks said. “It’s the nice thing about these early season meets. You get a measuring stick against the best teams in the country.”

Defending national champion NC State put three runners in the top six to take first place with a score of 55, followed closely by New Mexico’s 68 and Alabama’s 70. Notre Dame placed fourth with 144 points.

The Irish were led by a strong eighth-place finish from All-American junior Olivia Markezich. Also scoring for the Irish were graduate student Anna Sophia Keller and senior Katie Thronson in 24th and 25th, graduate student Maddy Denner in 35th and sophomore Erin Strzelecki in 54th. Denner, an All-American, has been hampered in training with a minor injury and should provide the team with a big boost when fully healthy. Sparks praised Markezich’s performance, noting that her ability to run with the front pack at big meets stems from her mental toughness as well as her fitness.

“Over the course of the last four years, she has developed the confidence to go out in the front of that lead group,” Sparks explained. “To see her step up early in the year and assert herself really just shows me how she’s grown as a person since she’s been here.”

The Irish still have work to do in order to close the gap with the teams that defeated them, but at this stage of the season, that is a position they are comfortable with being in. Last year, Notre Dame finished fourteenth at the same meet and went on to place fifth at the NCAA Championship, so a fourth-place result is encouraging for the team.

“I’m really excited about where we are,” Sparks said. “A year ago, we had a lot of things on the list that we knew we could improve upon and it took us eight weeks to figure them out. This year, we’ve got a shorter list, so we’ll just work through those things over the coming month.”

On the men’s side, an inexperienced Notre Dame team needed some time to get acclimated in their first major meet of the season, but used a strong finish to take the victory in the 5-mile race.

“There was some concern how the younger guys that we were counting on were going to step up in a pressure situation like we had this weekend, and they put the coaches’ minds at ease by the way they were able to finish the last half of the race,” Sparks said. “They went out a little bit conservative, which had our nerves a little high, but they displayed a lot of confidence … and ran like mature veterans.”

Running in front for Notre Dame was graduate student Kevin Berry, who finished tenth in his first time suiting up for the Irish following his transfer from Princeton, where he set a school record in the 5k and was an All-Ivy League Performer.

“[Kevin] is new to elite running. He was not a highly recruited kid out of high school,” Sparks said. “The Princeton staff did a great job of developing him and he’s taken some steps since he’s been here, really finding himself as a runner. He’s run fast times, but he’s never competed on a national level at the end of the season, so we need to help nurture him to be successful when it matters most.”

Just behind Berry, Irish sophomore Carter Solomon and freshman Izaiah Steury finished less than a second apart in thirteenth and fourteenth places just two weeks after the duo took first and second at the National Catholic Invitational. While most Notre Dame freshman are redshirted to allow further time for development, Steury immediately stepped in as one of the Irish’s leading runners.

“We knew it would be hard to keep him on the bench,” Sparks said. “He’s trained so well over the last month that we knew we needed him in the lineup.”

Sparks credits Steury’s focused mindset with having him ready to compete at an elite collegiate level.

“He just goes into this zone. You can see it in his eyes,” Sparks said. “He flips the switch when it’s time to compete. It’s a unique skill set that will help carry him far in the sport.”

Beyond their top-three finishers, Notre Dame’s depth was the difference maker that guided them to victory, even without one of their top runners in All-American sophomore Josh Methner, who is expected to debut for the Irish at their next meet. Alabama put three runners in front of Notre Dame’s first, and Tennessee added two more, but strong efforts from the Irish’s fourth and fifth men, senior Matthew Carmody and junior Carter Cheeseman, pushed them over the top.

“The thing we take a lot of pride in is the depth of our team, and that’s what you saw that allowed us to win,” Sparks said. “We feel like we’ve got ten to fifteen guys that are almost interchangeable, that if we need somebody to step up, we can always call on the next guy up and be successful.”

The Irish now turn their attention to their final regular season meet, the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 14. The Nuttycombe field is expected to be very strong, as over 20 of the top 30 teams from last year’s NCAA Championship on both the men’s and women’s sides will be racing. Notre Dame will look for continued improvement in their final race before beginning postseason preparations.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu

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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.