Oct. 29, 2014

Notre Dame, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame men’s cross country team couldn’t have been more skeptical about their annual fall break trip this year.

Under two-time national cross country coach of the year Joe Piane, the Irish men’s squad had gotten used to its yearly trip to Northern Michigan during the October recess to train and recharge. In many ways, it was always a guys’ weekend, an opportunity to bond with their brothers out of cell phone service range.

All that changed this season. Not only did the Irish head south instead of north but, this time, they were joined by the women’s team.

Now that both men’s and women’s groups are under the tutelage of associate head coach Matt Sparks, a joint fall break trip made sense. And far from being a downer, having the women along simply added a new dimension to the journey. Combined with concerns about the weather and their impending trip to hilly Virginia for the ACC Championships, Sparks figured the more rolling terrain of southern Indiana provided the perfect opportunity to at once relax at McCormick’s Creek State Park and to visit a pair of the country’s best cross country courses at Indiana State and Indiana University.

“Fall break at Notre Dame, it gives kids a chance to catch their breath and get a little bit more rest, but then obviously we were there to train as well,” said Sparks, who also noted the trip gave him the opportunity to get to know his teams better since he arrived in August. “It gave us a chance to get a good three or four days of training in, but also just gave them a chance to relax and be a little bit more at peace with themselves. Really, I think that led to more quality training. They were able to recover better from workouts because they didn’t have to go to class after training; they could run and sleep.”

The trip came at the perfect time, serving as a nice divide between the regular season and the ACC Championship meet. Both squads have experienced ups and downs this fall, but are eager to turn a corner heading into the postseason.

“I think the trip was a really good reset button for everybody on the team,” junior Molly Seidel said. “We got to get away from campus a little bit, go to a new area down at McCormick’s Creek State Park, camping out in great little cabins and you really get to relax and focus on running for a couple days. I think it was exactly what we needed after we had a kind of hard race at [the Wisconsin adidas Invitational], so it was a good recuperation.”

Sparks arranged for the teams to get workouts in at two of the nation’s premier courses, with a former national site in the IU Cross Country course and the current NCAA host, the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at Indiana State in Terre Haute, playing a big role in the coach’s decision to head south. Both offer a more challenging terrain than they normally experience in South Bend.

“The ACC meet is in Virginia and rumor has it [Panorama Farms] is a very challenging course,” said Sparks. “We made a special point to get there [to IU] and run some of the hills they have there and Terre Haute, running on that course that hosts the national meet, so it gives some of our younger kids the opportunity to see that course before they hopefully get to race there at the end of November [at the NCAA Championships].”

“It was beautiful. That was my first time ever being in southern Indiana and there are a lot more forests and a lot of hills and it was awesome that we got to go to the national course and do a workout,” added junior Michael Clevenger. “I think it was nice to get down there and run on some hills because obviously South Bend isn’t the hilliest. ââ’¬¦ We ran at IU’s course the first day we were there and that’s also really hilly, so it was good to get adjusted to it.”

The mid-semester hiatus gave the Irish a chance to unwind from the daily pressure of classes and practice, sure. But they also took advantage of the extra time for more youthful pursuits – like playing pranks on one another.

From plastic spiders in beds to Danielle Aragon’s interpretation of a scary movie character that frightened some sleeping male teammates, Clevenger insisted the primary perpetrators were the ladies. According to Seidel, though, the men at least had a pretty good time pretending the women were invisible for a night.

“I think it was fun,” Seidel said. “There was a little bit of pranking going on in between the teams, but I think it was fun to get everybody together. I think you can get kind of wrapped up in your own little team for a while and it was nice to get out and have some fun and just chill and relax and watch scary movies.”

By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant