Nov. 21, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In University of Notre Dame cross country associate head coach Matt Sparks’ view, negative experiences are often more potent learning opportunities than positive ones.
The Irish women’s cross country team has had plenty of positive experiences this season. After kicking off the season with a first-place showing at the National Catholic Championships on their own course, the Irish placed third in the Notre Dame Invitational at the beginning of October. They went on to place fifth among a talented field at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, and then sixth in the nation’s toughest region at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships, earning a bid to Saturday’s NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana.
It was smack in the middle of those five races, at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, where Notre Dame experienced its lone setback, placing 30th in an elite field of 38 teams. Though Sparks said the race “shook” the Irish, they have since used the experience to refocus and re-harness their confidence, which helped them as they aimed for an at-large bid to the national meet.
“We came off the Notre Dame Invitational with some success and I think we maybe had a little too much confidence going into Wisconsin, so it brought us down to earth a little bit,” Sparks said. “Since then, I think everybody’s understood their roles better and where they fit in on the team. I think that’s been a key component to the progression that they’ve made since the Wisconsin Invite.”
“Wisconsin, we didn’t have a great race, but we didn’t look at it and say, ‘Oh, we’re a bad team,'” senior captain Emily Frydrych added. “It was that we had a bad day and we knew we could perform better than that, but it did require that at the next couple of races we performed well. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ I think it just kind of made us realize how competitive we needed to be and forced us to be aggressive in those races.”
It is that attitude that has given the Irish the kind of restless resolve that means they are not content with a simple appearance at the NCAA Championships, despite being one of the last teams to qualify. Instead, they want to make a splash, which means finishing in the top 25 or better, which would mark significant improvement from their appearance at the meet a year ago, when they finished 29th of 31.
Three current Irish runners – Frydrych, Molly Seidel and Sydni Meunier – ran in the meet last season and, just as they have used their experience at Wisconsin to regroup, they plan on drawing from last year’s poor finish to inform their approach this season. Confidence and an aggressive attitude must be present to avoid getting “lost in the shuffle,” Sparks said.
“We’ve been giving 110 percent now and trying to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ be better than some people think that we are,” said Seidel, whose fifth- and fourth-place finishes at the conference and regional races, respectively, have put the junior in position to aim to be Notre Dame’s first All-American since 2009 [Lindsey Ferguson]. “I think with all of us, we want to go out and be competitive and not just go there to show up and be happy to be at the national meet. We want to go out there and race well and run a good competitive race.”
The Irish men will have one representative in junior Michael Clevenger, who finished sixth overall at the regional meet to earn an at-large bid. Clevenger, who missed part of the beginning of the season with a right quadriceps injury, has made progress each week. The regional marked the first time this season Clevenger has felt good from start to finish.
“With each race, I’ve built a little bit more momentum and so it was good to finally end the race feeling like I was having a good day,” Clevenger said. “Every race has kind of been a stepping stone. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ Finally here it was like everything came together and I ran well, so it was exciting.”
Clevenger is another member of the Irish looking to claim All-American status, following in the footsteps of fifth-year senior Martin Grady, who finished 35th at the NCAA Championships last season. Grady, who has exhausted his eligibility in cross country, is competing in track and field this season and trains with Clevenger, something Sparks said offer’s Clevenger an advantage.
Another advantage the Irish have is their familiarity with the Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course, the site of the this year’s race. The Irish had the opportunity to train on the course over fall break when they traveled to McCormick’s Creek State Park and visited the home courses of both Indiana University and Indiana State, the host of this weekend’s championships.
“I think that’s going to be something that the women’s team and I have over the competition is that we’ve run the course recently and we did a workout there, so it won’t feel so strange when we’re down there getting ready to run the biggest race of the season,” Clevenger said. “It can’t hurt.”
The 2014 NCAA Championships will take place Saturday on the Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. The women’s race will start at noon, with the men’s race following at 1 p.m. The race will be webcast live on NCAA.com. For live updates, follow the Irish on Twitter (@NDXCTF) and Facebook.
By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant