Nov. 13, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the University of Notre Dame cross country teams, running in Friday’s NCAA Great Lake Regional Championships at the Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wisconsin, might be the easy part.
Indeed, depending on the teams’ finish, the waiting and subsequent mathematics required to determine whether the Fighting Irish qualify for the national meet the following week might just be the most challenging tasks of the day.
Coming off a fifth-place finish at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships two weeks ago, the 29th-ranked (USTFCCCA) Irish women are looking to once again make a splash in what associate head coach Matt Sparks called the “toughest, deepest region in the country.”
To do so, Sparks figures the Irish will have to once again land within the top five in a field that includes No. 1 Michigan State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 8 Michigan, No. 19 Ohio State and No. 26 Toledo.
“Thirty-one get out [of regionals into the national meet] and when you’re talking about seven [strong teams having the opportunity to get out] in one region, that’s a pretty good percentage,” Sparks said. “We just need to be in the mix of those top six, so we’ve set top five as our goal.”
Then comes the math. Of the 31 bids to the NCAA Championships, 18 are automatic, with the top two teams in each region receiving one. The additional 13 are at-large, and are determined by a review of regular-season competition from September 26 on. Wins from the regular season count if a team defeats another’s “A” team that also competed at the regional championships. With enough wins, for example, a fourth-place team could qualify for the national meet, which also pushes the third-place team, as well. The at-large process, however, depends on completion of each regional nation-wide.
Additionally, the top four individual finishers in each region from teams that do not advance will also receive bids to the NCAA Championships, while two additional athletes will be chosen from the remainder of the national pool.
The Irish will be looking for strong races from all seven women competing on Friday. Sparks thought his top five ran solid at the conference meet, anchored by senior captain Emily Frydrych’s consistency (24th, 20:58.5), junior Molly Seidel’s fifth-place finish (20:11.2, All-ACC) and Karen Lesiewicz’s strong 38th-place finish that Sparks said “put us over the top.”
“I think everybody knows we’re really on the bubble, so we’re all going to have to have a good race to get in,” said Danielle Aragon, who also snagged all-conference honors with a 19th-place finish at the ACC Championships. “I think everyone understands that it’s not just going to be one person having a good day — we’re all going to have to have our best days. I think everyone’s just trying to get rest this week and do the right things to be ready.”
On the men’s side, Sparks also sees the Irish in the mix of the top six, but noted the region is not as deep on that side. He will be looking for strong races from juniors Michael Clevenger and Timothy Ball, who already have national-level experience, to lead an otherwise young group of Irish men.
“We expect those guys to battle for a top 15 spot, which will put them into consideration for individual qualifying,” Sparks said. “We’re a young team and six of our top seven will be back next year, so we need to have some success on Friday to build things for a successful 2015 season.”
Ball is not completely dismissing the idea of the Irish qualifying as a team, though, with a great two weeks of practice in their pocket and fresher legs as training intensity has lessened. The region boasts four ranked teams (No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 12 Michigan, No. 20 Indiana and No. 27 Michigan State) and Ball said placing ahead of the Spartans could put them into good position to qualify.
“Guys have really shown in the past few workouts that they’re ready to run and ready for anything,” Ball said. “With the shorter workouts, guys are feeling fresh and ready to go. The big thing for us is to consciously put these past races behind us because they won’t define our future. We should be in a good place. Guys have positive attitudes and are ready to run.”
The 2014 NCAA Great Lakes Regional will take place on Friday in Madison, Wisconsin, with the women’s 6K race set to take off at 1 p.m. (ET) and the men’s 10K race set to follow at 2 p.m. (ET). Live results can be found at the link at the top of the page. Stay tuned to UND.com and follow the Irish on Twitter (@NDXCTF) and Facebook for updates.
By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant