Nov. 21, 2015
By Ashley Albertson
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Gasps of admiration resonated throughout the crowd as University of Notre Dame senior Molly Seidel rounded the final turn Saturday at the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. Seidel had built a commanding lead over Boise State freshman Allie Ostrander and with the finish line in sight, knew exactly what she needed to accomplish.
For Seidel, the task of exceeding expectations comes naturally. A native of Hartland, Wisconsin, she became Notre Dame’s first individual national champion in women’s program history in the 10,000-meter event at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships last spring.
Carrying the weight of anticipation into this season, the All-American handled the pressure with the poise of a veteran, guiding her teammates along the way. She raced to titles at the ACC Championships and NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships before journeying to Louisville to take on a premier national field.
The progression came to fruition Saturday, as Seidel sprinted down the final stretch with a strong Notre Dame contingent cheering her onward. With a 6k time of 19:28.6, she officially became a two-time NCAA champion, as well as Notre Dame’s first female to capture the NCAA cross country championship and first overall since Oliver Hunter accomplished the feat in 1942.
“It is incredible,” Seidel said. “I am so blessed to get to run again with such incredible girls. To be able to come out and win today is just a really amazing experience. Four years ago at this race, I definitely didn’t finish this well. It’s an incredible accumulation of four years, with the struggles I’ve been though, to be able to come out and win my last one is really special.”
With Seidel setting the tone, the Notre Dame women’s team came away with its best finish in a decade, placing eighth overall with 276 points. Notre Dame also had three student-athletes earn All-America recognition, as Seidel was joined on the podium by freshman Anna Rohrer, who placed sixth in the women’s race, and senior Michael Clevenger, who represented the Notre Dame men with a top-40 showing.
“We accomplished all of our goals,” Notre Dame head coach Alan Turner said. “An individual national champion, top-10 finish for the women’s team and three All-Americans, it was awesome.
“Before the season, once we signed the freshmen class, we said we could have a top-10 women’s program. We talked to Michael (Clevenger) last night about being top-40 and becoming an All-American. He dug deep that last half mile and had to pick some people off. I gave him a big hug after and got a little emotional. I’m so proud of these kids, I really am.”
The pride Turner has for his Fighting Irish distance squad extends to his two-time national champion.
“I’m just so proud of Molly (Seidel),” Turner said. “She has taken her running to another level. We were confident that she could win the race, but we didn’t tell her that because we didn’t want to jinx her. She made it look easy like she has done all year long.
“She is so self motivated that Coach (Matt) Sparks has to pull in the reigns sometimes and say you don’t have to push that hard. Every single day she is dedicated to running, taking care of her sleep and nutrition. She does all the little things necessary and does them well. Plus, she’s tough as nails. She has elevated our program.”
The Notre Dame women’s program has displayed those strides throughout the 2015 cross country season, with national attention drawing to its top-two competitors – Seidel and Rohrer.
The tandem finished one-two at both the ACC Championships and NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships. In Louisville, the pair continued this trend for much of the race, as Rohrer joined Seidel in the front pack of racers.
“Anna (Rohrer) was up there for a long time,” Seidel said. “Having her there is just such a source of strength. She’s my training partner and we run together in all our workouts. You want as many teammates up in the front with you as possible.”
Rohrer, a rookie from Mishawaka, Indiana, arrived at Notre Dame following a celebrated prep career. In fact, she was named National Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year during her senior season at Mishawaka High School.
Following a sixth-place finish in a time of 19:59.7, Rohrer can now add NCAA All-American to her impressive racing resume.
In the men’s 10k race, Notre Dame’s lone competitor Michael Clevenger battled back after a challenging start to the race to accomplish his goal of a top-40 finish. Clevenger, a native of Decatur, Illinois, crossed the line in a time of 30:27.9 for 38th place.
Fueling the women’s top-10 showing was freshman Rachel DaDamio, senior Karen Lesiewicz, freshman Annie Heffernan and sophomore Ashlyn Rambo. Making her first appearance at the national meet, DaDamio placed 96th in 20:49.1. Lesiewicz, a fifth-year veteran who serves as a primary leader for the squad, earned a time of 21:04.1 for 135th, while Heffernan matched her pace with a 138th-place finish in 21:06.3. Rounding out Notre Dame’s representation was Rambo, who completed the race in 21:15.9.
Top Notre Dame Finishers:
Women – Championship (6k)
1. Molly Seidel (19:28.6)
6. Anna Rohrer (19:59.7)
96. Rachel DaDamio (20:49.1)
135. Karen Lesiewicz (21:04.1)
138. Annie Heffernan (21:06.3)
160. Ashlyn Rambo (21:15.9)
Men – Championship (8k)
38. Michael Clevenger (30:27.9)
The following interview took place following Seidel’s 10,000-meter national title:
Ashley Albertson, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, joined the Fighting Irish athletics communications team in August of 2015 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse and cross country/track and field programs. Albertson is a 2013 graduate of The Ohio State University, where she also earned her master’s degree in 2014.