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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

Irish roll to victory at National Catholic Invite

On Friday afternoon, Notre Dame cross country competed in the National Catholic Invite, their first home meet of the season. The Irish won in dominant fashion, sweeping the top five positions in both the women’s and men’s races.

The invitational served as the season debut for most of Notre Dame’s lead runners, with a few notable exceptions. The Irish’s top returners on both sides — graduate student Olivia Markezich, senior Carter Solomon and sophomore Ethan Coleman — are all healthy but worked out on Friday instead of racing after getting a late jump on their summer training programs.

“You get more fit through training than racing, and so giving them a chance to do a workout on that Friday versus racing on that Friday [is more valuable],” Irish director of track & field and cross country Matt Sparks said after the meet. “Whether it’s an injury throughout the summer that maybe kept people out of some training, or if they raced late into the summer, and then they just had a later start to their training cycle, that’s how we decide who’s going to race in some of these early-season races.”

Sparks noted that all three runners are expected to be back in action for Notre Dame’s next meet.

In Markezich’s absence, the Irish women were led by junior Siona Chisholm, who broke away from a group of Notre Dame runners to win the race. Chisholm transferred to Notre Dame last fall. After a strong first season in South Bend, she has established herself as a key leader of the team.

“Siona Chisholm’s really grown a lot in the last 12 months [since] she walked in the door last year as a transfer sophomore,” Sparks said. “She contributed on a conference level a year ago, but [we] expect her to make a big impact on a national level [this season]. So for her to be up front for us was an expected piece, and she’s become a good leader for the team.”

Chisholm was followed closely by freshman Grace Schager, senior Erin Strzelecki, graduate student Andrea Markezich and freshman Gretchen Farley. Schager and Farley competed unattached, as the coaching staff is still determining whether to preserve their eligibility by redshirting them this fall.

Notre Dame’s common practice is to redshirt nearly all true freshman. But the impressive efforts in training and on the race course from Schager and Farley have made it difficult to keep them on the sideline.

“Both were very successful high school stars and have transitioned well to the college distance. It’s just a matter of, ‘Can we continue to thrive with our upperclassmen, or do we need to rely on the freshmen?’” Sparks said. “We like to redshirt all the freshmen to save their years of eligibility. Their fifth year versus their first year, we would assume they should be dramatically better. But if the team needs them, then they will put a uniform on in October and help the team out.”

Markezich, who previously attended Washington, was one of several graduate transfers who impressed in their Notre Dame debuts on Friday.

“They participated for one team for four years, and then [I’m sure] it feels a bit like overnight, [they’re suddenly] wearing a different uniform,” Sparks said. “They’ve adapted to the training well, adapted to the team culture well, so we expect to see graduate transfers on both sides making big impacts.”

On the men’s side, senior Josh Methner was first to the finish line. He stuck with the lead pack for most of the race before pulling away down the stretch, eventually winning by an impressive margin of more than nine seconds. Methner dealt with persistent injuries for much of last fall but has been in strong form this season after redshirting in the spring.

“He could just really focus on training in the spring and summer, versus having to race all the way through late spring,” Sparks said about Methner’s redshirt season. “That fitness gave him the confidence that he needed to be where he is today. And we’ll have Carter Solomon out there in the coming weeks, and those two are going to give us a really good one-two punch when it’s time to compete on the conference and national level in November.”

Beyond Methner, the Irish were packed in about as tightly as you can get. Graduate student Jake Renfree, senior Robbie Cozean, graduate student Quinn Gallagher and graduate student Tyler Berg filled out the second through fifth slots and were separated by less than three seconds.

“That’s what we expect to see out of that group all year. They do a great job of training stride-for-stride together, and so once they get into a race, they just follow suit and work together and kind of lock in for three-fourths of the race,” Sparks said. “Then, the theme is, ‘Alright, the last mile or two, let’s pick it up and see how many people we can run down.’ They did a great job of working together and moving the last mile together.”

The Irish will look to build on Friday’s performance through the remainder of the season. That starts with their final home meet, the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invite, on Sept. 29.

After not facing much competition to this point in the season, Notre Dame will match up with several of the nation’s top teams. The No. 4 Irish women will have their hands full with defending national champion No. 1 NC State. The No. 8 men will enter the meet as favorites against No. 19 Butler and No. 21 NC State.

“It’ll be another good step for both teams,” Sparks said. “To go from where we ran pretty comfortably in our home meet at [the] National Catholic [Invite], to now racing against several top-30 teams.”

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