Oct. 16, 2014
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame cross country team heads north to Badger country this Friday for its biggest and most important meet yet.
The sixth-annual Wisconsin adidas Invitational, one of the nation’s premier collegiate meets, features 38 prestigious men’s teams and 40 reputable women’s teams from all over the country, highlighting an 8K men’s race and a 6K women’s race. The event also includes “B” races for both men and women.
The races are held on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, which opened in 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin.
“This is the best meet in the regular season. It is a privilege to be invited to it because not everyone can compete at this meet,” Irish associate head coach Matt Sparks said. “This is a very select group that Wisconsin hand picks to compete. We need to take advantage of the special invitation that we got.”
For the Irish women, it’s all about continuing their steadfast momentum, while the Irish men focus on their mental game.
“[The men are] fit; they’re doing the things conditioning-wise to compete at this level, but they just need to execute the race plan we talked about,” Sparks said.
That race plan is being more aggressive to in a good positioning early in the race, something the young squad struggled with two weeks ago.
“We had a little bit of a hiccup at the Notre Dame Invitational,” Jake Kildoo, a senior from Grove City, Pennsylvania said. “We finished a bit poorly. Some of the guys didn’t get out well, and some guys just need to realize that they are much better than what they ran.
“[Wisconsin] is our shot to show how we’ve been training, how fit we are.”
The Wisconsin adidas Invitational features 19 of the top 30 nationally-ranked teams: Northern Arizona (3), Portland (5), Syracuse (6), Stanford (7), UCLA (9), Wisconsin (9), Michigan (11), BYU (12), Providence (13), Iona (14), New Mexico (16), Arkansas (17), Florida State (18), Eastern Kentucky (19), Oklahoma (20), Indiana (23), Princeton (24), Washington (25) and Minnesota (27).
Northern Arizona won the race last year.
The Irish have practiced more with speed-based things to help get out faster this last week.
“We need to be more confident, be more aggressive, be ready to compete,” Kildoo said. “We know better that we have to compete at every stage of the race, that’s what cross country racing is.”
The race puts even more pressure on the Irish since it is their last major opportunity to get at-large points to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Only three members of the squad have raced the track before, so it will be a new experience for most, but that pressure may work in the Irish’s favor.
“Because it’s such a dense field with great talent, there’s not one team to beat. We just need to beat enough of the ranked teams to get points to help position us for regionals [Great Lakes Regionals],” Michael Clevenger, a junior from Decatur, Illinois said. “There is a lot of pressure on us at this meet, but a lot of us have been in this position in high school or college, running under pressure. For a lot of us, it’s a position that we thrive in.”
In order to compete well in this race, Notre Dame’s top three runners, Clevenger, Kildoo and junior Tim Ball, need to at least stay in the top 50, while the fourth and fifth men close the gap as much as possible, ending closer to the top three.
“If we want to be around at the end of November at the national meet, we have to start this week and do something significant,” Sparks said.
The Irish women squad is riding on a major confidence boost from the Notre Dame Invitational where they place third as a team amongst stiff competition, and moved into the United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) rankings for the first time this season at No. 28.
This race, however, features one extra kilometer, the first 6K race for the Irish this season. That kilometer, though, is no foe for the women.
“A lot of our workouts this year has been focused and training 6Ks since the beginning of the season,” senior Emily Frydrych said. “Even though we’ve raced 5Ks the past two races, our training has been preparing us for this race so I don’t think it’s going to affect us. I think we’re ready to race that extra K.”
The women’s squad consists of more veteran runners who have raced the grassy, even Wisconsin course a couple of times, so now it’s all about beating their fellow ranked teams.
“Honestly, it’s stacked,” Frydrych said. “At least 20 of the teams in front of us will be at the meet. It’s going to be a really good chance to score some points against them. If we go out and run hard, and really just compete against those other teams, it will be a really good opportunity for us.”
More than half of the 40 teams competing are ranked in the top 30: Michigan State (2), Arkansas (5), Stanford (6), Iowa State (8), Florida State (9), Virginia (10), New Mexico (11), Syracuse (12), North Carolina (13), Washington (14), Wisconsin (15), Boise State (16), Boston College (17), William & Mary (19), West Virginia (20), Providence (23), Dartmouth (24), Arizona State (25), Minnesota (26), Vanderbilt (27), Notre Dame (28) and BYU (30).
Arizona won the invitational last year.
The Irish executed Sparks’ race strategy well at the Notre Dame Invitational, and it will be a similar plan of racing out, getting their positions early and holding on throughout the race. The top two runners, juniors Molly Seidel and Danielle Aragon will lead the pack up front, while the three through seven women need to focus on packing up and run as a group to get those points and finish in the top 15, a very realistic outcome for the Irish.
“Two seconds can be 10 to 15 places in this race,” Frydrych said.
The women’s 6K race will begin at 11 a.m. (CT) followed by the men’s 8K run at 11:45 a.m. (CT). The women’s “B” race is slated for 12:30 p.m. (CT) followed by the men’s “B” race at 1:10 p.m. (CT).