NOTRE DAME, Ind. — When the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams toe the line for the first time in 2019 at Friday’s Crusader Invitational at Valparaiso, they will do so with far fewer questions than they had a season ago.
Young and untested in 2018, the Irish men’s squad emerged as the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference and qualified for the NCAA Championship, where they finished 14th nationally, for the first time since 2013. The women’s team placed second at the ACC Championships and boasted an eighth-place finish at NCAAs. The Irish combined for three All-Americans in then-freshman Danny Kilrea, senior Anna Rohrer and graduate student Jessica Harris.
Kilrea and Rohrer return to lead their respective Irish teams, looking to build upon last season’s success. To do so, they’ll take things one race at a time, focusing less on the results than on growing as a program.
“I think it’s more about growing and getting better as a program and the results will take care of themselves,” men’s cross country head coach Sean Carlson said. “When you’re focusing on the results you can get caught up in it and actually go backwards.”
The Crusader Invitational will serve as a warm-up of sorts, with runners farther down the Irish lineup getting the chance to shake off the rust and build some race confidence. For the men, Carlson will look to run a team race, while assistant women’s cross country coach Kendra Foley will seek reps for sophomore transfers Maddy Denner and Jocelyn Long, as well as some of the team’s younger runners. Denner, who raced the 10,000 meters at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, and Long joined the Irish in January and did not compete in cross country as freshmen.
“It’s very different running on a soft surface, an uneven grass surface, than it is the road or the track,” Foley said. “So that’s another main goal of this Friday, just getting our legs used to running on the grass and showing off our summer fitness.”
The Crusader Invitational, held at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, will feature teams from Notre Dame, Valpo, IUPUI, Loyola Chicago and Indiana State. The women’s race will begin at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the men’s race at 6:45 p.m. ET.
Men’s Cross Country Season Outlook
NCAA Returners: JR Andrew Alexander, SR Tyler Keslin, SO Danny Kilrea, JR Yared Nuguse, SR Kevin Salvano, GR Tony Williams
Graduated NCAA Qualifiers: Bradley Wattleworth
Newcomers: SO Dylan Jacobs, FR Carter Cheeseman, FR Jake Renfree, FR Nicholas Mota, FR Connor Shields, FR Tom Seitzer, FR Will Zinkan, FR Alex Luz, FR Quinn Gallagher
- Sophomore Danny Kilrea finished 33rd at last season’s NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors.
- Junior Yared Nuguse won a pair of national championships during the track season, anchoring the men’s distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and winning the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He finished third at both the ACC Cross Country Championships and the NCAA Great Lakes Regional last season.
- Graduate student Tony Williams and senior Kevin Salvano will serve as captains this season.
- This season will serve as the cross country debut for sophomore Dylan Jacobs, who competed solely in track last season. Jacobs was the 2017 Footlocker National Champion and ran with Nuguse on the champion DMR squad.
- Freshman Carter Cheeseman joins the Irish as a four-time Texas state cross country champion, a two-time Footlocker All-American and a five-time state track champion in middle distance and distance events. He was also the indoor 5,000 meter champion at the New Balance Championships.
- Freshman Jake Renfree was a three-time state champion in high school (800 meters, 1,600 meters and cross country) and won the indoor mile at the New Balance Championships.
- The Irish ranked ninth in the preseason USTFCCCA Cross Country Coaches Poll.
- The Atlantic Coast Conference coaches selected the Irish to repeat as league champions in their preseason poll.
- Sean Carlson was promoted to head men’s cross country coach prior to the season. He had spent the previous five seasons as an Irish assistant coach primarily focused on distance.
HC Sean Carlson on improvements…
“I think you’ll see a lot of familiar faces from our lineup and our roster last year, and I think everybody has progressed. That’s kind of exciting that everybody’s taken the next step in their development. You know, obviously, we were good last year, but we still had some growing to do, and I think we’ve taken the next step up.”
On preparing to compete nationally…
“Each of those meets along the way, we’re not as focused on the results of those as we’re focused on, are they preparing us for the national meet? Are we resting guys if we need to, or getting guys more experience for the national meet, things like that.I think that’s a little bit of a difference from last year to this year, especially at the start of the year, we weren’t in a position that we were a guarantee for the national meet. We weren’t even ranked coming into the season. We ended up doing pretty well, but it wasn’t a guarantee, and now I think we’re in a position to to prepare for the national meet and focus on that as opposed to just getting there. We also can’t get too big a head and just coast through things. We still have to show up.”
Women’s Cross Country Season Outlook
NCAA Returners: SO Jackie Gaughan, JR AnnaSophia Keller, JR Claudia Magnussen, GR Anna Rohrer
Graduated NCAA Qualifiers: Jessica Harris, Rachel DaDamio (remaining eligibility in track), Sydney Foreman
Newcomers: SO Maddy Denner, SO Jocelyn Long, FR Olivia Markezich, FR Emily Eberhart, FR Jess Schneider, FR Catherine Coffey, FR Jane Archibeck, FR Cassie Keys
- The Irish are led by three-time cross country All-American and 2016 ACC Cross Country Champion Anna Rohrer. After missing her junior cross country season, Rohrer returned as a senior and paced the Irish to an eighth-place national finish as the team’s top finisher in 10th place. All told, Rohrer is an eight-time All-America honoree between cross country and track.
- Sophomore Jackie Gaughan was also a major contributor for the Irish last season, finishing seventh at the ACC Championships and sixth at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
- Maddy Denner and Jocelyn Long were mid-year transfers for the Irish last season, enrolling in January and competing during the track season. Denner competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships, finishing 19th.
- Freshman Emily Eberhart was a two-time Nike Cross Country Nationals qualifier, finishing 39th in the event in 2018.
- The Irish were ranked 11th in the preseason USTFCCCA Cross Country Coaches Poll.
- The ACC coaches selected the Irish to finish second in the league in their preseason poll.
AC Kendra Foley on the approach to the season…
“Each season, it’s 13 weeks and there’s going to be so many good and bad things that happen within them. … And knowing that even if we have those bad days, you know, that’s OK. Let’s brush them under the rug, keep our sights set on the national meet. I don’t think we expected to place eighth year, and then they all just came together on the day. And so I think that that seed was planted, and now that is the common expectation.
“I think that they have come together as a team. One thing that is very different this year than last year is the girls themselves have created more of a family bond. They have created a very family-like atmosphere of a bond that they want to support and be there for one another through it all. I think that bond is taking them towards the postseason and driving them towards their goals.”