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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 teams to compete at Joe Piane Invitational

The Irish men’s and women’s cross country teams will return to action this Friday at the Joe Piane Invitational, their biggest home meet of the season. The Irish have competed in a couple of smaller meets this year, but Friday’s meet will be the first larger meet with some high-caliber competition.

Because of the competitiveness of the invite, head coach Matt Sparks is racing the majority of his top runners on Friday. The one notable runner that will not be racing is sophomore Josh Methner, who Sparks said will debut in a couple of weeks.

“[Methner]’s had a bit of a slow start to the season,” Sparks said. “He just needs another couple of weeks, and we will see him debut at Wisconsin. With his absence, it will force some other guys to step up as well.”

The men will look to fill the shoes of former All-Americans Yared Nuguse, Dylan Jacobs and Danny Kilrea, who all graduated last year. Sparks hopes that a leader will emerge on Friday.

“We have a lot of talent behind them, but we need to figure out who is going to establish themselves as the leader when it comes to racing,” Sparks said.

Sparks mentioned three men who he expects to step up on Friday.

“[Sophomore] Carter Solomon and [junior] Tom Seitzer are two guys that competed well last spring for us and have looked great in practice and been great leaders in practice. Those are guys that we would like to see run up front for us,” Sparks said. “[Senior] Matthew Carmody is a veteran on the team that has competed at the national level for us previously. We are confident that he can find his way back to the front of the group.”

Sparks is also looking forward to seeing freshman Izaiah Steury race this weekend.

“We are confident in Izaiah, who will be the only freshman running in uniform this weekend on either side,” Sparks said. “He has had a great first month of practice, so we are going to take the redshirt off of him. I expect him to be another one of those guys to establish himself as a leader.”

Steury is part of an Irish recruiting class that is arguably the best in the nation. Sparks mentioned freshman Ethan Coleman, who is not running on Friday, as another runner with potential.

“Ethan has had a great preseason of training and could potentially earn a roster spot and compete for us this year,” Sparks said. “[Steury and him] are really the two that have really stepped up. They have both come from very good training backgrounds in high school.”

Sparks said he understands that despite the great freshman recruiting class, it might take some time for those recruits to pay dividends.

“We arguably have the best freshman recruiting class in the country, but it takes a year or two to see that recruiting class play out with the exception of Izaiah, who is ready to put his uniform on right now and lead us into battle,” Sparks said.

On the men’s side, there will be plenty of competition for the 14th-ranked Irish with 24th-ranked Butler, 25th-ranked Alabama, and 27th-ranked Michigan competing.

On the women’s side, the Irish are led by two veteran runners in graduate student Maddy Denner and junior Olivia Markezich. Sparks hopes that the women’s team can establish depth behind their two stars.

“We have a very veteran group led by two All-American leaders in Maddy Denner and Olivia Markezich,” Sparks said. “We are looking to just establish our depth in our top seven. We are going to run a strong group of five women, but we aren’t sure how strong we will be in the six-seven spots. We are hoping to find some more depth on the women’s end of the roster.”

The eighth-ranked Irish women will face a very difficult test on Friday. Defending national champions and top-ranked North Carolina State, third-ranked New Mexico, and tenth-ranked Alabama are all competing.

Sparks said he was for both of his teams to compete at the elite level this season.

“There have been a great group of guys and women training really well this fall, but when it’s time to compete on the elite level, this will be the first time this year that either team has had elite level competition,” Sparks said. “It will be exciting to see who takes on the leadership responsibilities for both genders.”

Sparks said he plans to use Friday’s meet as another building block to the postseason, which begins in four weeks with the ACC Championships.

“It’s great to have a home meet building towards the postseason,” Sparks said. “The month of September is very comfortable for us as far as training and building towards the postseason. This is really our first competitive opportunity. It’s a little bit of a pretest for the postseason run to see where we are today.”

The Irish will have one more meet between Friday’s race and the conference meet.

“Each meet kind of builds on the previous, and each meet gets a little bit more competitive. This is the first meet with some elite teams coming to our home course to race. And then we will head to Wisconsin in a couple of weeks in a little bit more of an elite field compared to the Joe Piane Invite,” Sparks said.

The women’s 5000m race will begin at the Burke Golf Course at 10:30 am. The men’s 5-mile race follows at 11:15 a.m.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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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.