Sept. 2, 2015

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Great competitors showcase their drive and determination regardless of the setting. For the Notre Dame cross country team, these qualities were on full display at the team camp held Aug. 17-21 at Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, Ind.

The brainchild of Notre Dame head coach Alan Turner, the camp served as an intense training session for the group, with some individuals registering 100 miles or more for the week.

Although an excellent opportunity to put in work before the upcoming start to the season, Turner and associate head coach Matt Sparks did not plan the trip with a focus designated on training. The heart of the trip was within the team bonding sessions and activities arranged for the student-athletes away from the course.

“Whenever you get into the heat of competition, it is always a peaceful thing to know the guy standing next to you that much better,” Sparks said. “It’s one thing to see each other everyday from 3-5 p.m. for practice. It’s another thing to spend a whole week with the whole group doing various activities.”

From canoeing to beach volleyball, the staff gave the student-athletes control of their agenda with a goal to enhance communication and maximize fun.

“There have been a lot of changes in the past year with Coach Sparks joining the staff, and they have all been positive for our program,” Michael Clevenger, a senior this season, said. “It was especially awesome to get to know the freshmen before they had their orientation and first week of classes. Any time you can have with them when they are not stressed and have the chance to really get to know them is cool. They all seemed to be good guys who really care about running.”

Integrating the newcomers into the culture of the team was a primary goal for Sparks, who strived to provide a support system for the rookies during their introduction to the collegiate lifestyle.

“It was important to ease the minds of the freshmen coming into their first week of classes and give them 10-15 friends from the team,” Sparks said. “We have a really young team as a whole, especially on the women’s side. The veterans on the men’s team were able to reconnect after training independently, and the women’s team really used the time to connect as people and future teammates.”

The program welcomes a heralded class of freshmen, with the women’s distance contingent billed as the nation’s best by both FloTrack and Headlining the class are five-star recruits Anna Rohrer, a native of Mishawaka, Ind., and Annie Heffernan, as well as four-star selection Rachel DaDamio. In all, the women’s team adds six newcomers.

On the men’s side, a trio of competitors will strive to have an immediate impact on the team. Aaron Roe, who hails from Seattle, Wash., arrives with a cross country state championship to his name, while Joseph Suarez and Anthony Williams were multi-state qualifiers in Illinois and Indiana, respectively.

“With a lot of young guys just beginning their career, it’s going to be really telling the first few meets of the season,” Clevenger said. “I think after that we’ll be able to create long-term goals for the team. For some guys, last season was their first racing cross country or this season will be their first racing at a varsity level. It’s going to take the first race or two to determine our trajectory.”

With three years of experience complementing an individual qualification to the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Clevenger will be looked upon as a leader for the Fighting Irish unit.

Representing the women, Molly Seidel, who became Notre Dame’s first All-American since 2009 and finished 19th overall at the NCAA championships, returns to the course after securing a national championship in the 10,000-meter run at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Seidel will be joined by fellow veterans and NCAA finishers Danielle Aragon, Karen Lesiewicz, Taylor Driscoll and Sydni Meunier. Overall, the women’s contingent posted a 29th-place showing at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

For Sparks, the camp offered a glimpse into the veterans’ leadership style, as well as the personalities of each student-athlete. One consistency resonating throughout the team was a competitive drive, especially noticeable during fierce games of Spikeball.

“I get to see them run everyday and see their competitive sides in that setting, but this gave me the chance to see who jumped in and played the other games,” Sparks said. “It was interesting to see their fiery personalities come out for just random card games, Catch Phrase or Spikeball. That’s the nature of a good athlete — everything turns into a competition.”

The Fighting Irish will look to build upon a solid preseason with the season-opening Crusader Open hosted by Valparaiso University. Events are scheduled to commence at 6 p.m. (ET) Friday at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Valparaiso, Ind.

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– Ashley Albertson, Athletics Communications Assistant Director