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Irish cross country prepares to host National Catholic invite

Notre Dame cross country will serve as host for the National Catholic Invite on Friday afternoon at Burke Golf Course. The Invite will be the home opener for the Irish. Both the men’s and women’s squads will be heavy favorites coming into a meet that the program has historically dominated as they look to build on season-opening victories. The meet will feature a field of 16 Catholic institutions, several of which are located in the Midwest region. The women’s race is a 5K, while the men’s race will be five miles.

The Notre Dame men’s team enters the meet ranked No. 13 nationally after taking each of the top ten places in a strong showing at the Winrow-Valparaiso Invite. This was made all the more impressive by the fact that the Irish were not at full strength for the race. They rested several of their top athletes to provide experience for a talented but youthful group of underclassmen. These runners will be counted on to play major roles for the team during this season and beyond.

Given the opportunity to impact Notre Dame’s team score, the highly touted group of Irish freshmen stepped up. Izaiah Steury won the race, Ethan Coleman finished in fourth, and several other freshmen placed in the top ten. Notre Dame’s more experienced runners also performed well. Juniors Carter Cheeseman and Jake Renfree and sophomore Robbie Cozean earned top-five finishes.

Friday’s meet will likely feature a similar lineup for the Irish men, as the team is unlikely to race its full top seven until closer to the postseason. At last year’s Catholic Invite, Notre Dame won the race handily, taking the top four positions and posting a near-perfect score of 16. Top finishers junior Tom Seitzer, Cozean, sophomore Carter Solomon and senior Quinn Gallagher all return. The Irish should once again put a large pack at the front of the field.

On the women’s side, the No. 6 Irish have similar goals for the Invite after a comprehensive opening-meet victory against competitive Purdue and Western Michigan teams. A more veteran team than the men, Notre Dame placed five in the top ten, led by graduate student Katie Ryan, who placed second. Freshmen Sophie Novak and Charlotte Turesson came in third and fifth, respectively. The Irish victory came without appearances from All-Americans graduate student Maddy Denner and junior Olivia Markezich, along with other returners who will begin racing later in the year.

The Notre Dame women enter the Catholic Invite as the 14-time solo defending champions. They’ll strive to make it fifteen and to match their performance from last year. Then, they earned a perfect score by taking each of the top five spots. Last year’s race was won by freshman Kate Wiser, who emerged from a strong pack of Notre Dame runners. That included a pair of returners on this year’s team along with Wiser – Denner, who finished as runner-up, and senior Katie Rose Blachowicz, who placed fourth. None of these three runners competed at Valparaiso earlier in September, so the Irish lineup will likely look quite different from last year’s in their quest to retain the title.

Saint Mary’s will also be in the women’s field, aiming to continue a strong start to the season in what will be their third meet. The Belles placed sixth at last weekend’s Calvin Knight invitational, competing against several nationally ranked Division II and III programs. Junior Amanda Tracy led the team in the 6k race with a 31st place finish. Sophomore Susanna Bernovich, freshman Isabelle Auch, and senior Angela Bannan finished as a pack behind Tracy in 48th, 49th, and 51st, respectively. Saint Mary’s finished in 13th place out of 15 teams in last year’s Catholic Invite. A 59th-place effort from Bannan paced the team. The Belles look to better that result on Friday.

Temperatures at race-time are expected to be in the mid-eighties. The warm conditions will test the toughness of the Irish in their final “tune-up” race before diving into the challenging slate of meets that the second half of the season will hold.

The National Catholic Invite will begin with the women’s race at 3:30 p.m. on Friday at Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course. The men’s race will follow at 4:15 p.m., and the awards ceremony will be at 5 p.m.