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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Heffernan enters sophomore season healthy, looking to build family atmosphere

For 15 seasons, the name of a Notre Dame women’s cross country runner has sat atop the leaderboard at the National Catholic.

This year, that name is Annie Heffernan, as the sophomore edged out teammate and graduate student Danielle Aragon for the top spot.

“It was awesome,” sophomore Heffernan said. “Our coach told us that we had had an individual win in that race for the past 14 years. So the pressure was kind of on for us from the beginning.”

However, for Heffernan, the first-place result is bigger than just the National Catholic. The win also marks a milestone on the Cincinnati, Ohio, native’s road back to full health after an injury during the most recent outdoor track season.

Irish sophomore Annie Heffernan competes in the National Catholic Championship on Sept. 18, 2015, where she finished third overall.
Sarah Olson | The Observer
Irish sophomore Annie Heffernan competes in the National Catholic Championship on Sept. 18, 2015, where she finished third overall.

“My season last year didn’t really end the way I wanted it to, so this year I’ve been working harder to make sure that that does happen,” Heffernan said. “[I’ve been] doing everything my coach has for me on my schedule: ice bathing, stretching after runs and not really pushing myself too hard at this point in the season. Because that’s something that a lot of people struggle with is burnout towards the end. So for me, that’s something I need to ensure doesn’t happen.”

And with the graduation of 2016 graduate Molly Seidel, the Irish will need Heffernan to stay healthy as the team looks to match its eighth-place finish at last year’s NCAA championships. In that championship meet, Heffernan witnessed Seidel’s greatness firsthand as Seidel won her second national title. Heffernan, who figures to be in a more prominent position as a national contender, said she enjoyed the opportunity to learn from Seidel.

“That’s the biggest thing, that we get to race with them and run with them every day in practice,” Heffernan said. “So it’s extremely motivational to ask them questions whenever we need to or knowing when we’re doing workouts, [it's like], ‘Wow, this person has been so successful in the past, if I can stick with them, if I can do a workout with them, I can gain some knowledge from them in practice.' It gives you confidence for our success in the future.”

While Heffernan works to stay healthy on the course, she said she also wants to create a healthy team dynamic off the course, because it was that sense of family that sold her on Notre Dame in the first place.

“I was looking at a lot of different schools and mainly the people here clicked with me,” Heffernan said. “When I was in high school, I was really, really close to my coaches and my teammates and we had a family atmosphere there and I was looking for that in college, as well. When I came in here on my recruiting visit, I definitely saw that with the girls on my team and the coaches here and it’s just something I wanted I have and something I thought would help me be successful in the future.

“[I want to be] a team player, a team sport. The biggest thing for me coming into here was finding a school where I felt the team had a family atmosphere. I just hope that in the future, as I do become more of a leader on the team, that I can help to continue that sort of family atmosphere.”

Heffernan believes that sense of family starts with the sophomore class that includes her, Anna Rohrer and Rachel DaDamio, though Heffernan is quick to add she enjoys spending time with all of her teammates.

“I feel like everybody really brings something to the team,” Heffernan said. “I love all the different personalities of the girls. Everybody is so different and brings something special. I don’t think that we’re necessarily the heart of the team, but I do really enjoy my sophomore teammates. We’re all very strong runners, very strong individuals.”

And as the sophomore group, which was ranked the number one recruiting class two years ago, grows more confident, they will continue to grow in their leadership as well, Heffernan said.

“Last year we had an amazing senior class who made us feel welcome from the start, always made us feel comfortable voicing our opinions,” Heffernan said. “I think that that’s helped us become stronger this year and to be better leaders ourselves.”