Dec. 5, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Last season, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s track and field programs proved they were forces to contend with as newcomers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And though the Irish are now led by first-year head coach Alan Turner, expectations will remain constant as they look to establish the kind of dominating presence in the conference as they enjoyed during 18 years in the BIG EAST.
Turner, who spent two seasons as associate head coach and two as an assistant under the legendary Irish head coach Joe Piane, has set lofty goals for the Irish and believes the pieces are in place to repeat the same kind of success Notre Dame experienced last season. The Irish women placed second at the ACC Outdoor Championships in 2013-14 and third at the conference Indoor Championships, while the men snared third place in each meet. With several key pieces returning on each side – and some newcomers poised to make early contributions – the Irish expect a similar outcome this season while Turner strives to build the program into an annual national contender.
“We let people know in our first year in the ACC that we were a team to be reckoned with and I don’t think we initially got the respect going into the ACC since it was a much tougher conference than the BIG EAST and we had been one of the dominant teams in that conference for many years,” Turner said. “We should continue to be one of the top three teams in the ACC and that’s my goal.”
The Irish picked up 18 All-America nods (10 for the men, eight for the women) by 13 different student-athletes (seven men, six women) last season. They will look to add to those scrolls, particularly on a women’s team that that is returning three multi-time All-America winners.
The Irish will be led by a new-look coaching staff since the retirement of Piane. Turner, associate head coach Matt Sparks (cross country and distance, first year at Notre Dame) and assistants Adam Beltran (throws, eighth year), Sean Carlson (men’s distance and recruiting, fourth year), Jim Garnham (jumps and multi-events, seventh year) and Pristina Jones (sprints and jumps, first year) bring both youth and deep coaching and competitive experience to the Irish staff.
As associate head coach in 2014, Turner helped the Irish earn four ACC Championships and 14 all-ACC honors, while his sprinters snagged 12 first-team All-American honors. His efforts earned him his second straight USTFCCCA regional assistant women’s coach of the year award. Sparks, who spent 12 very successful seasons as head cross country coach at Southern Illinois University, already has an Irish All-American to his credit, with junior Molly Seidel earning the distinction during the cross country season.
Here is an in-depth look at each team:
Men’s Track & Field
The Irish mirrored their BIG EAST success in their first season in the ACC, finishing third in the conference during both the indoor and outdoor seasons after never finishing lower than third in 18 dominating years in their former conference.
The Irish will boast three returning All-Americans this season, led by seven-time honoree Chris Giesting. The senior, who picked up three All-America nods last season in the indoor 4×400-meter relay, the indoor 400 meters and the outdoor 400 meters, was also the ACC 400-meter indoor champion and was the ACC Indoor Championships Most Valuable Performer in 2014.
Giesting will anchor the Irish sprint group. Giesting, who was also the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the year in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, played a big part in guiding the Irish to their third-place finish at last year’s ACC Indoor Championships. In earning MVP honors at last year’s ACC Indoor Championships, Giesting scored 18 points as the Irish sat just six points behind champion Florida State.
Elsewhere, Smith is poised to continue making an impact early in his career. In addition to earning All-America recognition with the 4×400-meter relay, Smith also helped the group shave one-tenth of a second off the Notre Dame school record.
The Irish will look for contributions from fresh faces as they try to replace the ACC indoor and outdoor 5,000 meter champion Nick Happe and four-time All-American Jeremy Rae. Happe, who spent one year with the Irish as a graduate transfer, also earned an All-American nod as part of Notre Dame’s fourth-place distance medley relay squad.
Turner will look for veteran leadership in the distance group, with senior Jake Kildoo (5,000 meters) and junior Michael Clevenger (3,000 meters, 5,000 meters) expected to make an impact at the conference level. Dumford is expected to step up in the 800 and the mile.
“These guys are going to score big points for us at the ACC meet and we think they can definitely qualify for indoor nationals,” Turner said.
Just behind them is freshman Andrew Pott, who is expected to contribute in the 800 and has impressed in practice.
Padovano, who specializes in the hammer and weight throws, is coming off a third-place finish in the hammer throw at last year’s ACC outdoor championships, while Shivers is expected to be a force in outdoor discus.
Freshman Tommy Rhodes, a two-time New Jersey state shot put champion, is also expected to make waves as a newcomer.
Mesidor, who also competed with the 4×100-meter relay team that placed second at the ACC Outdoor Championships, turned in a fifth-place finish at the conference championships during the outdoor portion of the season. Richartz claimed third-place at the ACC Indoor Championships in the pole vault, while Schipper placed fifth.
Junior Brent Swanberg will pace the multi-events unit after competing exclusively during the indoor season in 2013-14. He competed in four heptathlon events at the ACC Championships, finishing as high as sixth in the shot put.
Women’s Track & Field
The Irish women feature a deep squad that is poised to hold onto the position it seized in the ACC in their inaugural season in 2013-14. Notre Dame was third at the conference meet during the indoor season, and came in second to Florida State by just 15 points during the outdoor season.
In addition to returning five athletes with 14 All-America honors among them, the Irish are looking for breakout performances from some key freshmen, particularly in the sprint category. Jade Barber (six-time All-American), Kaila Barber (one-time), Margaret Bamgbose (four-time), Danielle Aragon (two-time) and Carly Loeffel (one-time) give the Irish a wealth of championships experience.
The Irish boasted three ACC event champions a season ago, with Jade Barber a part of each. Barber won the gold in both the 60-meter indoor hurdles and the 100-meter outdoor hurdles, while playing a key role in the 4×400-meter outdoor relay champion. She was joined on the squad by returning senior Amber Lalla and junior Bamgbose, while the Irish lost seven-time All-American Michelle Brown to graduation.
Jade Barber anchors a deep sprint lineup that has the potential to see immediate contributions from a handful of younger performers. Joining Barber among the group’s leaders are Bamgbose and twin sister Kaila Barber, though the latter is expected to miss the indoor season as she recovers from an injury.
Jade Barber followed up an outstanding sophomore campaign with yet another All-America caliber year in 2013-14. The Irish are looking for similar growth from Bamgbose, who broke the Notre Dame record in the 400 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which was set by teammate Michelle Brown in the same race. Bamgbose is also expected to step in on the distance medley relay squad that was an All-American pick last season.
Also expected to continue with improved performances are Lalla and sophomore Emily Carson. Freshmen Allie Bartoszewicz and Parker English are also expected to be key contributers. Bartoszewicz was a Pennsylvania state champion in the 100 and 200 meters last season, while English set personal records in the 200 and 400 meters.
After an All-American cross country campaign, Molly Seidel is expected to pace the Irish in the distance category and make an impact at the end of the season. She will join Aragon and Bamgbose on the distance medley relay and Turner hopes to see her in the national conversation in the 3,000 meters as well.
Aragon will look to build off her sophomore season and propel the Irish in the 800 and the mile, in addition to the DMR. Turner thinks highly of his freshman distance group as well and hopes to see one or more of them running in the 2:07 range in the 800.
Senior Emily Morris is Notre Dame’s lone returning NCAA qualifier in the shot put and Turner expects more of the same out of her this season. After finishing eighth at the ACC Indoor Championships and fourth at the ACC outdoors, Morris was 22nd in the preliminaries at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Behind Morris are junior Lena Madison, who placed ninth in discus at ACC Outdoors last season, and sophomore Josephine Jackson, who was 16th in that meet in the shot put. Ihuoma Nwaogwugwu is a senior who can score in the weight throw.
Senior Mary Esther Gourdin brings the most experience to the jumps group and is the current Notre Dame school record holder in the triple jump. Carly Loeffel is a multi-events senior who trains with the jumps group and also has NCAA experience. Loeffel will redshirt the indoor season.
Freshman Rachel Rhodes also has potential in the jumps area, having placed fifth in the state of Illinois in the high jump as a high school senior and was the runner up as a sophomore.
Loeffel brings the most experienced of the Irish in the multi-events area. An second-team All-America honoree in the pentathlon as a sophomore, Loeffel competed in just five meets last season and will redshirt during the indoor season.
Rhodes will also compete in the multi-events.
Notre Dame will host four meets during the indoor season at the Loftus Sports Center, starting with Friday’s Blue & Gold Invitational.
In addition to the season opener, the Irish will play host to the Notre Dame Invitational (January 24, 2015), the Meyo Invitational (February 6-7, 2015) and the Alex Wilson Invitational (February 21, 2015). The Meyo Invitational, named for the nation’s largest indoor track and home to the famous Meyo Mile, will take place for the 29th time.
The early part of the season will serve as a warm up of sorts for the Irish to get comfortable competing with other teams. The Blue & Gold Invitational will be a good barometer to set goals throughout the winter in advance of the ACC Indoor Championships.
“This first meet sets the tone a little bit and lets us know where we’re going to be strong and where we really need to get to work,” said Turner. “Even if they don’t have a great first meet, they still have all of December and a few weeks of January before the next meet. It’s an opportunity to get the season kicked off and do something before the break.”
Also during the indoor season, the Irish will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the Simmons-Harvey Invitational; to Bloomington, Indiana, for the Indiana Relays; to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Razorback Invitational; to Allendale, Michigan, for the Grand Valley Big Meet; and to Geneva, Ohio, for the SPIRE DI Invitational.
The ACC Indoor Championships will take place at the end of February, followed by the NCAA Indoor Championships during the second weekend in March. The outdoor schedule has not yet been released.
By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant