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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Irish women place fourth at NCAA Championships, men finish inside top 15

On Saturday morning, Notre Dame cross country concluded its season at the NCAA Championships in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Irish women capped off one of the best seasons in program history by earning fourth place, the team’s first podium finish at the national meet since 2004 and second-best finish in school history. Meanwhile, the men used a balanced effort to claim 14th and place inside of the top 15 for the sixth consecutive season.

The Notre Dame women entered the meet with positive momentum after winning the Great Lakes Regional the prior weekend.

“The regional meet for the women's team was just a step to get where we knew our goal was at the end of the year, to be at the national meet and to be on the podium,” said Irish director of track and field and cross country Matt Sparks. “It was a good confidence booster for the women to know that they could win that win that meet pretty comfortably.”

They delivered another strong postseason showing on Saturday. Up front for the Irish was graduate student Olivia Markezich, who battled with the lead pack for the entire race and finished in third. That result marked Markezich’s best-ever finish at the national meet and her third time placing inside the top 11 overall. It served as a culmination of her illustrious cross country career for the Irish.

“Over the course of her college career, she went from a kid that walked on our team five years ago and was really not sure if she was ever going to make our top seven … to someone who recognized that she's one of the best girls in the country and, every time we’ve gone to a national competition over the last three years, she knows she can get out and run with anybody in the race,” Sparks said. “That's something that's really going to be missed going forward, somebody that is that assertive and that confident that, when the big meet’s here, she'll be ready to go.”

Second to come through for the Irish was graduate student Andrea Markezich, twin sister of Olivia and a transfer from Washington. Finishing inside of the top 40 at 35th, Andrea earned All-American honors for the first time in her career. The standout performances from both sisters were made even more impressive by the fact that both had dealt with flu-like symptoms in the week leading up to the meet. Their efforts on Saturday made it a special day for the Markezich family.

“It was especially sweet to … see how emotional their entire family was,” Sparks said. “For that day to culminate, obviously in a great race for Olivia, but for Andrea to earn her first All-American award made it really neat to see.”

While Saturday marked the final Notre Dame cross country races for both of the Markezich sisters, the rest of the Irish’s lineup was made up of underclassmen who will be counted on to lead the team next fall. Senior Erin Strzelecki made it three All-Americans for Notre Dame by finishing in 37th. Junior Siona Chisholm (114th) and freshman Grace Schager (125th) closed out the Irish’s scoring at 237 and secured a fourth-place finish for the team. Freshman Gretchen Farley and junior Sophie Novak were close behind in 141st and 173rd,respectively.

“We’ll look for Erin Strzelecki, who was an All-American this year as well, to lead the way for the team. But we’ll expect those freshmen [Schager and Farley] along with Siona Chisholm to hopefully continue the track we've been on,” Sparks said. “We were fifth, seventh and fourth [nationally] the last three years, and so we've kind of developed a top-eight goal year in and year out for our program. Those freshmen and the incoming freshmen next year are going to be counted on heavily to maintain the tradition.”

While the Irish women earned an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Championships by virtue of winning their region, the men took a bumpier path, placing fourth in the Great Lakes and relying on an at-large bid to qualify.

“The men had a bit of a rougher race that day,” Sparks said about last weekend’s regional meet. “We were pretty confident we’d get the at-large invitations with our fourth-place finish. But both teams had a great week of practice leading up to the national meet, so that gave them even more confidence that they were ready to go in Charlottesville.”

The Irish men’s team has been extremely balanced all season, with several different runners having led the team at various meets. On Saturday, it was sophomore Ethan Coleman out in front for Notre Dame. Competing in his first cross country postseason after redshirting last fall, Coleman followed up his All-ACC finish at the ACC Championships in October by placing 48th nationally.

“Ethan had a great freshman year last year, he redshirted cross country but he competed in track and field and he was one of the top freshmen in the country,” Sparks said. “So we saw the skill set last spring. Much like Olivia [Markezich], Ethan has learned how to compete when it matters most. And it was refreshing to see that again at the national level for him.”

Behind Coleman, the Irish’s top three was filled out by a pair of graduate transfers. Vincent Mauri, who joined Notre Dame from Arizona State, took 68th. Tyler Berg, a transfer from Columbia, was also inside of the top 100 at 92nd.

“We’d have been in a hard spot had those transfers not risen to the occasion at the national meet,” Sparks said about Mauri and Berg. “Really proud of the way they've made the transition from their previous institutions to the Notre Dame system. “Athletically and academically, it's a challenging place to be and they've acclimatized very well to what Notre Dame is all about. I'm really proud of their efforts to figure it all out.”

Senior Robbie Cozean and graduate student Quinn Gallagher were the next to cross the line for Notre Dame in 119th and 155th, and senior Carter Solomon and sophomore CJ Singleton rounded out the Irish’s runners.

Compiling a team score of 398, the Irish earned 14th place, narrowly defeating Harvard for the spot on a tiebreaker.

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