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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 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.