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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

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‘We've been working towards that for a while:' Irish post strong cross country, track and field seasons

Notre Dame women’s cross country led the way with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championship

Women earn podium finish at cross country nationals, men place inside top 15

As has become the program standard, Notre Dame cross country enjoyed a strong season in the fall, highlighted by the Irish women placing fourth at the NCAA Championship in November. That marked the team’s top finish at the national meet since 2004 and second-best in school history.

“That fourth-place finish was something we kind of built towards for the last couple of years,” Irish director of track and field and cross country Matt Sparks said. “In cross country, the top four [at the NCAA Championship] get on the podium [and] get trophies — that's kind of a benchmark for being elite in our sport. So we've been working towards that for a while.”

The Notre Dame women were led all season by a trio of All-Americans, a group that included graduate student Olivia Markezich — one of the best runners in program history — and her twin sister Andrea Markezich, a graduate student who played a key role for the Irish after transferring from Washington in the fall.

“Obviously the big leader for our program was Olivia [Markezich]. She's a three-time cross country All-American for us, leading the way every step of the way. But the nice addition for her and for the entire team was the addition of her twin sister, Andrea [Markezich], who was our number two runner at nationals and who earned her first cross country All-American award,” Sparks said. “And then rounding up our All-American spots for the women was [senior] Erin Strzelecki.”

In addition to the team’s veteran leaders, Notre Dame got a strong push from a pair of true freshmen who contributed to the team’s postseason success and will be counted on to step into expanded roles next fall.

“Rounding out the team were two freshmen that give us a lot of confidence going forward in the future with Grace Schager and Gretchen Farley,” Sparks said. “[They were] running in our top five to seven all year long.”

Similar to the women, the men’s team saw contributions from a mix of experienced returners, graduate transfers and talented underclassmen. After the team placed fourth in the ACC and at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, Notre Dame's youth and grad transfers led the team to a strong 14th-place finish at the national meet.

Sophomore Ethan Coleman — racing in his first cross-country postseason after redshirting during his first fall on campus — was up front for Notre Dame at nationals and finished in 48th place.

“Ethan [Coleman] leading us at the national meet — [although] it might seem unexpected for a redshirt freshman to do that — Ethan’s a guy who’s run a ton of mileage over his entire career,” Sparks said. “So it was expected internally for us, but to see a freshman step up, you just never know really how they handle the big moments. Ever since Ethan’s been here, he’s stepped up in conference championships and that NCAA Championship in a very confident manner.”

Coleman was one of three top-100 finishers nationally for the Irish, along with graduate transfers Vincent Mauri and Tyler Berg. While Mauri and Berg will depart, the depth and talent up and down the Irish men’s roster provide significant optimism for next fall and beyond. Sparks specifically noted senior Carter Solomon and sophomore CJ Singleton among those he expects to lead next year’s team along with Coleman.

“One of the hallmark goals of our program is to always finish in the top 15 [nationally] — men and women — and we've been able to hold true to that the last couple of years,” Sparks said. “The men lose those two graduate transfers, but we've got a lot of young support behind them, [so] we feel confident the men will be just as good, if not better, in the years going forward.”

All-Americans O’Brien, Markezich and Shoaf highlight successful track and field season

With the conclusion of cross country season, the Irish quickly shifted their attention to track and field, where they have featured several standout performers both indoors and outdoors.

After claiming her first NCAA Indoor Track and Field pentathlon title last winter, senior Jadin O’Brien made it back-to-back national championships in March. O’Brien followed up that feat by qualifying for the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials in the heptathlon with a school record-breaking performance at the Mt. SAC Relays in April.

“Jadin [O'Brien] has become an athlete that — even though she's a senior in college — we're already treating her like a professional athlete now, and the vision for her is to make sure she's ready for the Olympic Trials. So she's starting to see herself in that light as well,” Sparks said. “It's not good enough for her to just qualify for the Olympic Trials in her mind. She's going to make a strong push to make the Olympic Team.”

O’Brien was one of three All-Americans for the Irish in the indoor season, joining Olivia Markezich (national runner-up in the 3000m) and graduate student Michael Shoaf (sixth place in the shot put).

“Michael Shoaf, he was an All-American in indoor track,” Sparks said. “It was his first First-Team All-American award, and he was sort of the leader for us in a lot of ways on the men's side.”

The Irish also enjoyed team success during the indoor season, with a particularly strong finish from the women.

“On the women's side for track, our third-place finish at the ACC meet was tied for our best finish in school history, so that was exciting,” Sparks said. “That gave us a lot of confidence going into the national meet where we finished 10th, which was also one of our best finishes in school history.”

After concluding the outdoor regular season, the Irish will move on to the ACC Outdoor Championships, where Sparks said they hope to finish inside of the top six as a team on both the women’s and men’s sides. From there, top performers will move on to the NCAA Regional and Championship meets to close out the postseason in early June.