June 9, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — It wasn’t until just 800 meters remained in the men’s 5,000 meter semifinal at the NCAA East Preliminary Championship in Jacksonville, Florida, that University of Notre Dame junior distance specialist Michael Clevenger felt as though he could breathe easy.
Unused to the sweltering climes of northern Florida, but with a hard-earned lesson in his back pocket after a disappointing performance at the Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Championships in Tallahassee two weeks prior, Clevenger knew this one would take some deep digging. Especially in the middle when things got hot and legs got heavy.
As the field at the front began to thin, and Clevenger found himself among the top six of his heat with just a half mile to go, there was none of the lost concentration that had been his downfall in this same event the year before. His training had built to this point, rather than resulting in late fades, and with 400 meters left, his status among the top three in the heat was all but assured, sending him to his first NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which kick off Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon.
“Regionals was pretty good because I ran pretty much how [associate head coach Matt Sparks] had expected all year, so I was pretty excited, kind of coming off a bad performance at conference and rebounding,” Clevenger said. “The goal this year was to run my fastest now and I think that I’m doing that, so it’s been exciting to see that transformation.”
Clevenger is one of seven Fighting Irish men and women making their first trip to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon out of a Notre Dame contingent of 13. On the men’s side, he joins sophomores Nathan Richartz (pole vault) and Alex Groesch (4×400-meter relay) and freshman Eric Ways (4×400-meter relay) as outdoor nationals first-timers, while junior Molly Seidel (10,000 meters) and freshmen Parker English (4×400-meter relay) and Jordan Shead (4×400-meter relay) are the newcomers for the women’s squad.
Each have overcome their own obstacles to reach this point. Clevenger and Seidel, the oldest of the newly-minted national qualifiers, slogged through injuries during their first two seasons, but have emerged among the best distance runners in the country. Indeed, Seidel enters the championships with the top-seeded time in the women’s 10,000 meters after the regional competition.
Groesch and Ways have face similar adversity as members of the men’s 4×400-meter relay squad, which had fought through various collective injuries before assembling a perfect storm of a race to not only breeze into the national semifinal but record a school-record time at the regional, as well. English and Shead had already been a part of a school record in their own 4×400 relay this season, though were one of the last groups to qualify from the East Preliminary.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Groesch said. “Towards the beginning of the season, we were all getting hurt, so we didn’t know how things would pan out, but we’ve just been working hard each week and it all came together last weekend. We all knew that it could happen, but we knew it would take a perfect race. The perfect race just happened. We knew it was possible, but we definitely surprised some people.”
For head coach Alan Turner, the chief concern for those Irish student-athletes who will be making their first appearance at the national outdoor meet will be managing distractions, as there are likely to be more fans and television cameras than they are used to. Not to mention the allure of the venerated track which hosts the event, cemented in the sport’s lore thanks to the legend of Steve Prefontaine and the running culture inherent to the Pacific Northwest.
“I want them to be competitive like they have been all season long,” Turner said. “Don’t get caught up in the hype and the hoopla and the TV cameras and all the extra that’s going on out there. Just remember you’re there to compete and compete at a higher level. If they do that, they’ll be fine. It’s a little different, but the actual running and competing is the exact same thing they’ve always done.”
Luckily, Turner has a strong group of returning competitors that already know the ropes.
Senior Chris Giesting is the grizzled veteran of the men’s group, making his fourth trip to outdoor nationals and competing in the 400 meters and 4×400-meter relay. Relay teammate sophomore Harvey Smith also made the trip last season. For the women, senior Jade Barber (100-meter hurdles) and Margaret Bamgbose (400 meters, 4×400-meters) have been annual staples at the championships, while seniors Amber Lalla (4×400-meter relay) and Emily Morris (shot put) are each making their second appearance.
That experience not only bodes well on the scoreboard, but offers the kind of stability that can give the Irish newcomers a leg up.
“It kind of helps just knowing where the track is, where the fans are, because it’s just a different arena,” Giesting said of the experience of competing at Hayward Field. “It’s one of the best places to run in terms of fan excitement and atmosphere, so it’s nice being comfortable with the whole setup. … Hopefully I can tell some of the younger guys on the relay how it’s all going to work so they don’t have to think about too much else than just running, and make it easier on them.”
Barber echoed Giesting, but added the importance of offering emotional support, as well, especially when it comes to teammates dealing with niggling injuries that might affect their mental preparation.
“I just want to provide them with emotional support, telling them they can do it; I just want to make sure that everyone knows that even if you’re not in tippy-top shape, some of your competitors aren’t either and so you just have to go out there and [try your best],” Barber said. “Whatever they need, I’m there.”
Action at the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships will begin at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday with the heptathlon, while running events will commence at 7 p.m. EDT. In a change from past years, men’s and women’s events will take place on alternating days, with a few exceptions. Men’s events will take place on Wednesday and Friday, while women’s events will be held on Thursday and Saturday. The decathlon and heptathlon will take place on Wednesday and Thursday. The event will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
Schedule of Events
All Times EDT
Wednesday — ESPNU beginning at 7 p.m.
7 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault final
8:30 p.m. –Â Men’s 400 meters semifinal
10:28 p.m. — Men’s 4×400-meter relay semifinal
Eric Ways, Harvey Smith, Alex Groesch, Chris Giesting
Thursday — ESPNU 7-8:30 p.m.; ESPN 8:30 p.m.
8:02 p.m. — Women’s 100-meter hurdles semifinal
8:30 p.m. — Women’s 400 meters semifinal
8:40 p.m. — Women’s Shot Put final
9:38 p.m. — Women’s 10,000 meters final
10:18 p.m. — Women’sÂ 4×400-meter relay semifinal
Parker English, Jordan Shead, Amber Lalla, Margaret Bamgbose
Friday — ESPN 7:30 p.m.
8:35 p.m. — Men’s 400 meters final
9:30 p.m. — Men’s 5,000 meters final
9:50 p.m. — Men’s 4×400 meter relay final
Saturday — ESPN2 5 p.m.
5:45 p.m. — Women’s 100-meter hurdles final
6:05 p.m. — Women’s 400 meters final
7:20 p.m. — Women’s 4×400-meter relay final
Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant