Hatherly-Piane Director of Track & Field and Cross Country
After four seasons as associate head coach, Matt Sparks was promoted to Notre Dame’s cross country and track and field head coach on July 6, 2018. In 2019, he was named the Hatherly-Piane Director of Track & Field and Cross Country following the promotion of Sean Carlson to men’s cross country head coach.
In addition to overseeing the program, Sparks’ area of concentration is on the women’s cross country program, as well as coaching Notre Dame’s women’s distance runners throughout the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
In 2018, the Irish cross country programs proved to be among the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with the men’s team winning the league title and women’s squad claiming runner-up status. The programs’ strength led to both earning NCAA Championship bids in the same year for the first time since 2013, with the Irish women placing eighth and the men finishing in 14th place. The programs combined for three All-America citations: Danny Kilrea for the men and Anna Rohrer and Jessica Harris for the women.
In the 2018-19 track season, the Irish claimed a pair of national championships — one by the men’s distance medley relay during the indoor season and one by Yared Nuguse in the outdoor 1,500 meters. The Irish added seven track and field All-Americans: Nuguse, Samuel Voelz, Edward Cheatham and Dylan Jacobs in the DMR, as well as Nuguse (1,500 meters), Rohrer (10,000 meters outdoor) and Jessica Harris (1,500 meters outdoor). Additionally, Sparks’ Irish claimed ACC titles in the DMR, the men’s indoor mile (Nuguse), the men’s indoor weight throw (Logan Kusky), the women’s indoor weight throw (Rachel Tanczos), the men’s outdoor 1,500 meters (Nuguse) and the women’s outdoor 10,000 meters (Rohrer).
As associate head coach in 2018, Sparks helped guide junior Rohrer to an All-American finish in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
During the 2016-17 season, Sparks oversaw an Irish women’s distance squad that finished 11th overall at the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Sparks led the Irish women to six individual ACC titles between cross country and track, including four by sophomore Rohrer, who highlighted Notre Dame’s season with a third-place finish overall in the cross country national final. Sparks also coached Harris and graduate student Danielle Aragon to second-team All-America finishes in the 1,500m at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June.
During his second season at Notre Dame, Sparks helped coach Molly Seidel to another spectacular year. She added to her national championship tally as she went on to win not only the NCAA Cross Country Championship but also NCAA titles in the indoor 3,000 meters and indoor 5,000 meters. Additionally, Seidel claimed the ACC title as well as the Great Lakes Regional title in cross country and continued her success in the indoor track season to win ACC Championship titles in the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters.
Sparks also was able to build exceptional depth with the newcomers on the team, with Rohrer headlining the freshman class. Under his direction, the women notched a third-place finish at the 2015 ACC Championships. At regionals, the team received an automatic NCAA bid after the Irish placed second. Seidel and Rohrer’s performances at the NCAA Championships elevated the team to an eighth-place finish. Michael Clevenger was the Irish men’s representative at the championships, where he placed 38th.
In his first season at Notre Dame, Sparks coached Molly Seidel to a standout junior campaign in both cross country and track and field. To headline her many accomplishments, Seidel secured a national championship in the 10,000-meter run at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The national title complemented her All-America performance at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and All-America standing at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Along with Seidel’s individual achievements, Sparks led the Notre Dame women’s cross country team to a fifth-place finish at the 2014 ACC Championships. The team went on to earn an at-large selection to the NCAA Championships after placing sixth at the 2014 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships. Ultimately, the Irish women claimed 29th at the NCAA Championships. The men’s cross country season was highlighted by an NCAA individual qualification for then-junior Clevenger. The Irish men supplemented Clevenger’s performance with a seventh-place showing at the ACC championships and sixth-place finish at the Great Lakes regional.
The track and field season concluded with the women’s team garnering its highest finish in program history at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, placing 13th overall. The previous high for the Irish came in 1999 when the team earned 17th place. Clevenger put together a performance to note, leading the Notre Dame men’s distance core and picking up second-team All-America recognition in the 5,000 meters.
Prior to joining the Irish, Sparks spent 12 seasons as cross country and assistant track and field coach at Southern Illinois. He left SIU as its winningest cross country coach, with six Missouri Valley Conference crowns — men’s titles in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 and a women’s title in 2013 (the first for the Saluki women in 21 seasons). He began his tenure in Carbondale, Illinois, during the 2002-03 campaign and specialized in coaching cross country, middle-distance and distance events.
Across both cross country and track he coached 51 MVC event champions, 140 all-MVC performers, 127 MVC scholar-athletes and 10 NCAA event finals qualifiers. The MVC named Sparks its cross country coach of the year in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. He coached eight teams to NCAA championship top-25 finishes, including the 2010 Saluki women’s team that claimed ninth place at the outdoor national championships.
Sparks tutored five MVC most valuable track athletes and four MVC cross country athletes of the year. He has seen at least one Southern Illinois athlete in every distance event qualify for the NCAA regional meet. In addition to working with two cross country All-Americans at Southern Illinois, he coached two outdoor track Second Team All-Americans and 10 USA Track & Field Junior All-Americans. He produced one USATF Junior National Champion, a World Junior competitor and a Pan American Junior competitor.
Sparks coached 11 cross country teams at Southern Illinois that earned national academic honors. His 2003 Saluki women’s squad (3.61) and his 2010 men’s squad (3.6) had the second-highest grade-point averages in the nation.
At Southern Illinois, Sparks spent his first two seasons as the women’s cross country coach and women’s distance coach in track until the men’s and women’s programs combined in 2004. Since that time, he has served as cross country coach and distance coach for both the men and women.
Prior to his tenure at Southern Illinois, Sparks spent two years (2000-01 and 2001-02) as an assistant track and field coach at Ohio State, where he handled women’s cross country and women’s distance runners. He previously served three years (1997-2000) on the Indiana University track and field staff, working as a volunteer assistant, graduate assistant and then an assistant coach — while also handling duties as executive director of the Indiana Track Club, the largest track club in the state.
Originally from Noblesville, Indiana, Sparks is a 1997 graduate of Indiana University with a degree in science education. He also earned a master’s degree from Indiana in 1999 in applied sports sciences.
A standout student-athlete at Indiana, Sparks competed in cross country and ran the 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000-meters, as well as the marathon. He served as the Hoosier team captain in cross country as both a junior and senior in 1995 and 1996, as well as in track and field as a senior in 1997. Indiana selected him as its 1996 cross country MVP, and he helped the Hoosier distance medley relay squad finish as the 1994 Big Ten Conference runner-up. At the high school level, Sparks six times won all-state recognition in cross country and track and field at Noblesville High School. Three times he claimed top-five finishes in the Indiana state high school cross country meet.
Sparks and his wife Emily are parents of a son, Samuel, and two daughters, Eliza and Zoe.