Michael Clevenger and the Irish men's cross country team are eyeing a top-six finish at Friday's ACC Championships.

Irish Eye Consistency At Hilly ACC Championship Race

Oct. 30, 2014




NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the University of Notre Dame’s cross country squads, Friday’s ACC Championships at the Panorama Farms Cross Country Course in Earlysville, Virginia, will be about putting it all together.

Both men’s and women’s teams have had their share of hits and misses this season. Associate head coach Matt Sparks has seen each of his runners run great races this season, but the consistency has been lacking. In the push toward the championship portion of the season, Sparks is looking for more consistency, confidence and racing as a team.

“[We’re focusing on] just racing with more confidence,” Sparks said. “Everyone’s had a good race or two, but it’s about putting it all together on the same day. That’s where belief in themselves and belief in their training ââ’¬¦ needs to shine forward.”

The men’s 8K field features four teams ranked in the USTFCCCA Top 30: No. 3 Syracuse, No. 13 Virginia, No. 15 Florida State and No. 28. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State are also receiving votes. Syracuse secured the men’s title a year ago, while the Irish finished third.

In order to recreate last year’s success, the Irish men are looking to make the ACC meet their breakout race. Junior Michael Clevenger thinks that is a possibility, as his team has finally begun training with consistency and shaking off nagging injuries.

“I think we’re all looking forward to having that [breakout] race this weekend and hopefully getting a really good result,” Clevenger said. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure on the meet, just being our second year in the conference and last year we fared pretty well ââ’¬¦ so it would be nice to go back and do a similar thing.”

Sparks is hoping for a top-five finish on the women’s side, which would also put the Irish back into the national conversation. The ND women briefly cracked the top 30 at No. 28 before a tough race at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, but with six ACC women’s teams nationally ranked, a top-five result would give the Irish momentum to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

The women’s 6K field includes No. 12 Florida State, No. 13 Virginia, No. 15 North Carolina, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 30 Boston College. Virginia Tech is also receiving votes. Florida State won last season’s title, followed by Virginia, Syracuse and the Fighting Irish.

“Because it is a very competitive region, we know that it’s going to be challenging, but from how we raced in the beginning of the season, I think we know we have the potential to race up and potentially be in the top three at [the ACC] race,” junior Molly Seidel said. “So we’re going in with high expectations and just going to try to gut it out and put everything on the line to see what we can do.”

To prepare for the bumpy terrain they will run into in Virginia, the Irish have been training on hills as much as possible. And while this can be a challenge in South Bend, they took advantage of fall break to head south and train on hilly courses at Indiana State, the site of the NCAA Championships, and Indiana University, which features one of the toughest courses in the country.

“We got to do a couple of the hills down in Bloomington, a little bit more rolling than it is up here,” Seidel said. “I think it was good prep for heading out to Virginia, where it is going to be a much more challenging course than what we’ve had here on our own course, which is basically pancake-flat. I think it was good training to get us mentally into that state because ââ’¬¦ we need to be ready for it being a more difficult course.”

The past couple of weeks have been all about getting the Irish into an appropriate mental state that will provide confidence on race day. Sparks has tried to achieve this by reflecting on the teams’ progress throughout the season, pointing to significant improvements and then encouraging a team mentality.

“[I want to] get them to work within each other so they know they can run with [a particular teammate], so let’s work in this pack here and keep moving up together within the race,” Sparks said. “[I want them to] try to find each other within a race and you get that peace of running with your teammates, the person you’ve trained with the past couple of years and [to] use that person you’re working with to give you strength to pull you through the last tough part of the race.”

The 2014 ACC Championship will take place on Friday in Earlysville, Virginia. The women’s race will begin at 10 a.m. ET, followed by the men’s at 10:45 a.m. ET. To track the Irish results, you can watch live on ESPN3. Live results will be available as well. Continue to stay tuned to UND.com and follow the team on Twitter @NDXCTF.

By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant