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Table Talk on The Virginia Challenge

April 20, 2017

By Ally Bartoszewicz

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — This weekend, 22 Notre Dame track and field athletes will be traveling to Charlottesville to compete in the Virginia Challenge at the University of Virginia. For our middle- and long-distance squads as well as our multi-event duo, this meet is a key one, positioned exactly three weeks out from the Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

It called for a slight backing off of mileage to save the legs for the big stage. It required a “de-load” week in the weight room. It qualified as one of the three meets on the distance girls’ calendar that gets circled multiple times. It warranted, apparently, the tall awkward redhead sprinter teammate to crash the dinner table a few nights before and ask a lot of questions.

Between bites of training table risotto, the following is a sample of what these warriors of will power and endurance shared with me about this upcoming competition.

The Lowdown

Junior Rachel Rhodes will be competing in her first heptathlon of the season, rising out of a long recovery period from knee surgery last summer and a stress reaction in her hip earlier this year. A master of all athletic trades, her comeback takes the form of four events on Friday – the 100m hurdles, high jump (the only event of the seven she competed in in high school), shot put, and 200m – followed by the long jump, javelin, and 800m on Saturday. Her training partner, freshman Carter Sorenson, will be taking on his first collegiate decathlon.

Friday and Saturday night will feature sophomore Annie Heffernan and junior Brent Kennedy’s 10,000m debuts on the track. This race of the mind demands that Annie, Brent, and Kevin Pulliam run around the track 25 times in total – and, to the amazement of my 200m attention-spanned self, stay absolutely focused every step.

“You just think about the race and do whatever you can to not fall out,” Kennedy said.

“You’re in too much pain for your mind to wander,” Pulliam admitted.

“Yeah, if your mind wanders, you’re toast,” Kennedy said.

For Pulliam, though, this trying race will be met with some hometown support. He’s from McLean, Virginia, his parents both attended the University of Virginia, and his younger brother brother is a freshman there now.

Pulliam notes, “I’ll get to race some familiar faces from home, and having a bunch of support for family and friends will hopefully help me get through those last couple laps.”

Ashlyn Rambo, Lexi Pelletier, and Anna Rohrer will be logging their first 5,000m of the outdoor season. All three finished in the top eight for this event at the Atlantic Coast Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships, and Ashlyn says she hopes this meet will be a “stepping stone” toward a similar outcome. After dabbling in the 1,500m at Raleigh Relays, Lex is happy to return to a distance that feels more like home.

And while her recent 10,000m debut puts Anna at No. 1 in the nation right now, she confirms that the 5,000m still holds the No. 1 place in her heart.

“It’s long enough that I feel comfortable doing it, but not so long that I don’t want to look at the lap count,” Rohrer said.

Graduate student Sydni Meiner will competing in the 3,000m steeplechase race Saturday morning. This event combines three major demanders of mental strength: long distance running, jumping over barriers, and wading through a 12-foot long pit of water. For Sydni specifically, it also involves running with wet socks, which I think we can all agree is the truest mark of mental perseverance. On top of that, she’s surmounting a difficult senior year during which injuries prevented her from competing at all.

Senior 1,500m runner Chris Marco approaches this weekend already with an 11th-place spot on the NCAA East Regional list. Even so, he’s looking to improve on his 3:43 mark from the Stanford Invite. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in the fast heat,” he noted. “So hopefully I can move into the top 10.” Junior Billy Dolan will be competing in the 1,500m as well, and anticipates that the squad – which also includes Jacob Dumford and Ryan Schweizer – will reap the benefits of their recent focus on speed work.

Arlington, Virginia, native Kelly Hart is excited to be running the 1500m and 800m in front of a home crowd.

“A lot of my friends go to UVA, and my family’s coming, so it’ll be fun to have them all there,” she shared.

Stephanie Knight, Jessica Harris, and Danielle Aragon will all be taking on this same feat of an event combo, while Emily Franz and Jamie Marvil will be focusing their efforts on solely the 800m.

The men’s 800m race (not dash, to be clear-Kirk Hansen explained that it could be a “sprint/distance hybrid” or “controlled sprint” but never dash) will be comprised of Patrick O’Connell, Eric Gebeke, and Hansen. Their goal for the meet matches our team’s goals across the board for this weekend, including the sprints, jumps, and throws who will be simultaneously competing across the country at Baylor: improve our position as we near ACCs next month.

To follow this weekend’s performances by some of the coolest and mentally toughest people I know, see live results information below.

WHAT: Virginia Challenge
WHEN: April 21-22, 2017
WHERE: Lannigan Field
LIVE STREAM: ACC Network Extra, beginning at 7 p.m. ET
LIVE RESULTS: Click here.

WHAT: Michael Johnson Invitational
WHEN: April 22, 2017
WHERE: Clyde Hart Track & Field Stadium
LIVE STREAM: Click here.

Thanks for letting this sprinter in on the world of distance for the evening! Two worlds, one family. Go Irish.


Junior Ally Bartoszewicz runs sprints for the Irish. She’s a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native studying English and Catholic Social Tradition.