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 email@example.com.