Dec. 6, 2013
After dominating the BIG EAST for almost two decades, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s track and field programs have their bags packed for the Atlantic Coast Conference, with their first taste of the new league coming at the ACC Indoor Championships in late February and early March 2014.
In 18 years in the BIG EAST, the two teams combined to win 18 indoor or outdoor titles and finished in the top three a whopping 55 times. The Irish also won 18 Coaching Staff of the Year trophies and 12 Most Outstanding Track Athlete plaques.
A new league brings new competition, but not new expectations as the Irish look to win conference titles and qualify student-athletes for the NCAA Championships like they have for decades.
National success has picked up significantly for the Irish since 2011, as Notre Dame student-athletes have earned 60 honorable mention All-America or All-America (first or second team) scrolls (28 men, 32 women), highlighted by a national championship from the men’s distance medley relay team in 2012 at the indoor championships.
“I think we could have as good a team (men’s and women’s) or better as we did last year,” says 39-year head track and field coach Joe Piane. “Both squads are broad-based teams with good competitors in all areas, which is essential to compete in the highly-competitive ACC.”
Some of Notre Dame’s top competitors include national powers Florida State and Virginia Tech on the men’s side and the Seminoles and Clemson on the women’s side.
Leading the Irish against these new conference foes is a veteran staff that has a combined 78 years of Notre Dame experience. Under Piane is women’s cross country head coach and assistant coach for women’s distance Tim Connelly (25 years), associate head coach for sprints and hurdles Alan Turner (three years), assistant coach for throws Adam Beltran (six years), assistant for recruiting and men’s distance Sean Carlson (one year) and assistant coach for jumps and the multi-events Jim Garnham (five years).
Turner is coming off a remarkable year where his athletes dominated at the BIG EAST meet as he earned USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Men’s and Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year honors during the outdoor season and Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year accolades following the indoor season.
“It’s great to have a stable staff,” said Piane. “That’s what we are accustomed to and provides us great continuity. It’s pretty rare around the country to have a staff that stays together for a while, but it really helps us because they all know what their roles are and they know what they are supposed to do. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year which is great.”
Here’s an in-depth look at both squads:
Men’s Track and Field
After closing out their time in the BIG EAST with a pair of runner-up finishes at the indoor and outdoor championships, the Irish move to the ACC looking to compete right away.
From the indoor season, both event champions and five of the six all-BIG EAST performers that won eight of the 10 all-conference scrolls are back. These include graduate student and heptathlon champion Ted Glasnow and senior Patrick Feeney, who is a three-time BIG EAST champion and reigning first team All-American in the 400m. Joining Feeney at the NCAAs was junior Chris Giesting, who is a fellow first team All-American in the 400m.
Giesting (400m), Jarrod Buchanon (400m Hurdles), Jack Favorite (4x800m Relay) and Eddy Gibbons (4x800m Relay) all won BIG EAST outdoor titles last season and return this season to compete during both seasons, while fifth-year student Jeremy Rae (1,500m) is eligible for the indoor season only. Eight of the nine all-BIG EAST winners from the outdoor championships are back for at least one of the track and field seasons, which includes first team All-American Rae (1,500m) and honorable mention All-Americans Buchanon, Feeney and Giesting from the 4x400m relay team and Feeney in the 400m dash.
When taking a look at the men’s sprints group one must start with standouts Feeney and Giesting, who are roommates and close friends in addition to being two of the best sprinters in the country. The duo has traded school records, won BIG EAST titles and earned All-America scrolls in two seasons together.
“Pat (Feeney) and Chris (Giesting) are a coach’s dream,” says associate head coach Alan Turner. “They are talented kids who work their butt off. They lead by example and they believe in what I’m saying. It’s just a joy to work with those two every day. If we had a team with student-athletes like those guys we would win the National Championship pretty easy.”
While both student-athletes thrived in the indoor season as each earned first team All-America honors in the 400m dash, neither finished the outdoor season satisfied as injuries prevented both from performing as well as they would have liked.
2013-14 will be their final season together as Feeney finishes up his eligibility.
Joining Feeney and Giesting is reigning BIG EAST 400m hurdle champion Buchanon and five talented freshmen: Alex Groesch (sprints), Andrew Helmin (hurdles), John Rutkowski (sprints), Harvey Smith (sprints) and Conner Stapleton (sprints).
These newcomers will look to replace all-BIG EAST performer Brendan Dougherty, who graduated last May. Turner hopes with some work that two of these freshmen can team with Feeney and Giesting to create a pretty powerful 4x400m relay team for the two NCAA meets.
Highlighting the men’s middle distance and distance squads is fifth-year student Jeremy Rae, who returns just for the indoor season after missing last year with an injury that occurred during the cross country season. In his previous indoor season, Rae won an NCAA championship with the men’s distance medley relay team by running a fantastic mile in the last leg of the race.
Helping to push Rae will be Arizona State transfer Nick Happe, who enrolled in law school this fall. Happe has made appearances at the NCAA Championships in both the mile and 3,000m run during his four-year career with the Sun Devils.
Five throwers return from 2012-13 and one elite newcomer joins the fold to give assistant coach Adam Beltran a solid base with which to work with as the group gets settle to battle a tough ACC.
Back are seniors Andrew Brock and Jordan Stumph and junior Dominick Padovano, who all boast BIG EAST Championship experience. Padovano took fourth in the discus at last year’s BIG EAST Outdoor Championships.
Joining the trio is high school standout Anthony Shivers, who was widely regarded as one of the top high school discus throwers in the country as a junior and senior.
An All-American in the classroom, Renwick does pretty well for himself on the track as well as he won the BIG EAST outdoor triple jump in 2012 and finished third in the outdoor long jump in 2013 in addition to scoring points 10 times throughout his career. Renwick has also qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round twice in his three-year career.
Mesidor, meanwhile, advanced to the NCAA East Preliminary Round in the long jump after finishing fourth in the event at the BIG EAST Outdoor Championships.
Schipper and teammate Patrick Krach both look to make an impact in a talented pole vaulting league. The former has scored points at multiple conference meets.
Fifth-year student Ted Glasnow paces the multi-events unit as he looks to burst onto the national scene in his final campaign in the Irish uniform. Last year Glasnow won the BIG EAST heptathlon during the indoor season and took third in the decathlon during the outdoor season. The third-place finish was the second straight for the Newhall, Calif., native in the event at the BIG EAST meet.
Learning under the tutelage of Glasnow and assistant coach is sophomore Brent Swanberg, who placed eighth in the heptathlon at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships before suffering an injury and missing the entire outdoor season.
Women’s Track and Field
After leaving the BIG EAST in style with a pair of dominating performances at both the indoor and outdoor championships, the Irish look to continue their winning ways in the ACC.
From the indoor season, two of the three event champions, all four members of the victorious 4x400m relay team and 11 of the 14 all-BIG EAST performers that claimed 19 of the 24 all-conference scrolls are back. These include the co-Most Outstanding Track Performer Jade Barber (60m hurdles, 4x400m relay), senior Michelle Brown (400m, 4x400m relay), sophomore Margaret Bamgbose (4x400m relay) and senior Megan Yanik (4x400m relay). Barber (60m hurdles, 4x400m relay) and Brown (DMR, 4x400m relay) went on to earn two All-America scrolls at the NCAA Indoor Championships and were joined by teammates Alexa and Danielle Aragon (DMR), Yanik (4x400m relay), Bamgbose (4x400m relay) and Kelly Curran (DMR) as 2013-14 returners that earned All-America accolades.
From a dominating outdoor BIG EAST season returns all three individual event champions and all eight members of the two relay champions. In addition, 11 of the 13 all-BIG EAST honorees that won 20 of the 23 all-BIG EAST citations are back for their first shot at the ACC Championship. Back for another shot at the NCAA Championships include first team All-American Alexa Aragon (3,000m steeplechase), second team All-Americans Jade Barber (100m hurdles), Michelle Brown (400m) and Carly Loeffel (heptathlon) and seven honorable mention All-America honorees in four events.
A deep sprints and hurdles group that dominated the BIG EAST last season returns under associate head coach Alan Turner. Leading the charge are junior sisters Jade and Kaila Barber and senior Michelle Brown.
J. Barber had an outstanding sophomore campaign where she earned USTFCCCA Great Lakes Women’s Track Athlete of the Year honors in addition to all-BIG EAST and All-America accolades.
“People don’t know this, but Jade is still learning the hurdle events,” said Turner. “Last year she got a grasp of most of it and she did very well. She has yet to put together 10 solid hurdles in a race. They’ll be one hurdle where she’ll clip it or not bring her trail leg around all the way. If she can put it all together, she can be a national champion.”
K. Barber had an injury-filled sophomore campaign after an outstanding freshman season where she competed at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Brown swept the 400m races at the BIG EAST meets last year and went on to earn All-America honors during both seasons.
The Irish only lost standout hurdler Nevada Sorenson and also return talented performers Bamgbose, Aijah Urssery, Megan Yanik and Amber Lalla. All four earned earned all-BIG EAST or All-America honors.
Turner is especially high on Bamgbose, who thrived as a freshman as she ran with veteran runners for much of the season.
“I think we are just seeing how good Margaret (Bamgbose) can be,” said Turner. “I think she could have a breakout year this season. Usually my athletes get accustomed to my training during the first year and then take off their second season. Margaret is definitely one to watch out for.”
Joining the fold is talented freshman hurdler Taylor Craft, who Turner expects to be competitive immediately.
Despite losing All-American Rebecca Tracy to graduation, assistant head coach Tim Connelly has a deep pool of runners that should contribute at the conference and national level led by senior All-Americans Alexa Aragon and Kelly Curran. Aragon earned first team All-America accolades for the distance medley relay and the 3,000m steeplechase, while Curran was on the DMR team that placed seventh.
Other returning standouts include sophomore and fellow first team All-American in the DMR Danielle Aragon and veterans McKinzie Schulz, Gabby Gonzales and Emily Frydrych, who are all point scorers for the Irish at the conference level.
Newcomers looking to make an immediate impact on the team include freshmen Taylor Driscoll, Gabrielle Thivierge and Catherine Lombardo.
A veteran throws unit led by junior Emily Morris returns for assistant coach Adam Beltran. Morris qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round in the shot put for the second year in a row after taking third in the event at the BIG EAST Outdoor Championships.
Morris made big improvements as sophomore according to Beltran as she PR’d by over a foot after making some technical changes.
Also returning is junior Ihuoma Nwaogwugwu, who took eighth in the weight throw at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships and senior Vivien Devaney, who qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round in the hammer throw and is also a talented weight thrower.
Newcomer Josephine Jackson is expected to contribute immediately in the shot put.
A deep jumps unit looks to contribute in the ACC immediately for assistant coach Jim Garnham. Seniors Kelly Burke and Jessie Christian and junior Mary-Esther Gourdin all boast conference championship experience in the triple jump, with Burke and Gourdin scoring points last year in the event. Meanwhile, Christian placed sixth in the long jump.
Elsewhere in the long jump, Kaila Barber is back for her junior campaign and will be joined by talented freshman Emily Carson. As a freshman, Barber took fourth in the event at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships.
In the pole vault, Buke, junior Kayla Polcari and senior Kathryn Barousse all are looking to make a splash at the conference meet. Last year Burke placed fourth in the event at the BIG EAST outdoor meet.
After earning second team All-America honors in the heptathlon during the outdoor season, junior Carly Loeffel is back for her third year with the Irish as she looks to make another run at an All-America scroll. Garnham sees Loeffel competing for ACC titles in the pentathlon and heptathlon, as well as a top eight finish at the NCAAs. “Carly has all the tools to score well at NCAAs,” said Garnham.
The sixth-year head coach also has high expectations for senior Meghan Moore and freshman Laura Wendelberger. Last year Moore took sixth in the pentathlon and fifth in the heptathlon at the BIG EAST Championships.
The Irish will continue their tradition of holding four home indoor meets at the Loftus Sports Center during the 25-meet 2013-14 indoor and outdoor schedule.
The four classic home meets include the Blue & Gold Invitational (Dec. 6), the Notre Dame Invitational (Jan. 25), the Meyo Invitational (Feb. 7-8) and the Alex Wilson Invitational (Feb. 22). The Meyo Invitational, named after Notre Dame’s home Meyo Track and host of the famous Meyo Mile race, will occur for the 28th time.
“We like to stay as local as we can during the indoor season since we have the biggest indoor track in the country,” said Piane. But during the outdoor season we chase great weather as we look to get individuals qualified for the NCAA Championships.”
The Blue & Gold meet opens up the season for the Irish in December with just one away meet following before the end of 2013.
Notre Dame begins 2014 with four meets in January, including the Notre Dame Invitational. Last year, the women’s team won the invitational while the men took second. The end of January sees both the Indiana Relays in Bloomington, Ind., and the New Mexico Team Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., to prepare for the Meyo Invitational during the first week of February.
“The New Mexico meet should be a great one for us,” said Piane. “New Mexico, Air Force, UCLA and LSU should all be there for us to compete against and will offer us some great competition as we get ready for the Meyo Invitational and later the ACC and NCAA meets.”
The last home indoor meet the team will play host to is the Alex Wilson Invitational at the end of February before the ACC Championships (Feb. 27 – March 1) and NCAA Championships (March 14-15).
The outdoor season kicks off with the Texas Relays (March 26-27) in Austin, Texas. The Irish have five away meets in the month of April, including the ACC Championships in Chapel Hill, N.C. (April 17-19).
May consists of six meets that culminates with the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Fla. The NCAA Championships are scheduled for Eugene, Ore., June 11-14 for those who qualify at the preliminary round.
“There are ample opportunities throughout the indoor and outdoor schedule for individuals to qualify for the NCAA meets,” said Piane. “You have to have a wide variety of meets for the athletes that are definitely going to be national qualifiers and the ones you hope can become national qualifiers. This schedule accommodates everyone’s needs.”