Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 38 of 47 MAY 2021 39 ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE W ith essentially all of his roster still intact after a 15th-place national finish in 2019, Notre Dame men's cross country coach Sean Carlson knew he had a special group return- ing for the 2020 season that could dramatically climb that standings ladder this time around. But given the strange circum- stances and disjointed schedule cre- ated by the coronavirus pandemic this school year, the second-year Irish skipper didn't know if his team would ever get the chance to show its talent and reach its potential, or at times, whether it would even have an opportunity to compete. The Irish opened their season in September 2020. They claimed their second ACC championship in three years on Oct. 30, 2020, before hav- ing the remainder of the season postponed — including the NCAA Championships — for three months from November through January. Delays and distractions aside, Notre Dame survived its pandemic protocols and was rewarded March 15 at the NCAA Cross Country Championships held in Stillwater, Okla., with a national runner-up fin- ish behind only superpower North- ern Arizona, which has won four of the last five national titles. "To see this through with them has been an awesome journey," said Carlson, who earned ACC Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year honors for the season. "I'm proud of every single one of our guys and love them like family." Like in golf, low score wins in the 10,000-meter race and Carlson's Fighting Irish totaled 87 points, be- hind the Lumberjacks' 60. A distant third among the 30 qualifying teams was Oklahoma State (147), with Arkansas (181) and Stanford (194) rounding out the top five. The 87 points from the Irish marked the best score for a national runner-up finisher since 1997. It was also the fourth second-place finish in Notre Dame program history, but its first since 1945. The program's lone national title in the sport came in 1957 under head coach Alex Wilson, an alumnus who won the 1932 NCAA Outdoor Cham- pionship in the 800 meters and later that year won the silver medal at the Summer Olympics held in Los An- geles. Headlining Notre Dame's recent performance was junior Danny Kil- rea, who finished the 10,000-me- ter distance in 30:11.5 to place 10th among the 237 individuals who com- pleted the race. Sticking to Carlson's run-with-the- pack philosophy, four other Fight- ing Irish runners crossed the finish line numbers 20-23, respectively: sophomore Dylan Jacobs (20th, 30:25.6); senior Andrew Alexander (21st, 30:26.4); freshman Jake Renfree (22nd, 30:26.6); and senior Yared Nu- guse (23rd, 30:26.6). Also placing for the Fighting Irish were freshman Josh Methner at No. 36 (30:43.5) and senior Kevin Salvano at No. 228 (33:57.9). The top 40 finish- ers all receive All-America honors, and the balanced Irish featured the most of any school with six honorees, while Northern Arizona had four. "Don't ever count Notre Dame out," Carlson proclaimed afterward. More good news for Carlson is that all six of his All-American run- ners will return in the fall to chase down another ACC title and perhaps the program's second-ever national championship. Nuguse, the 2020 ACC individual champion, the reigning 2020 ACC Men's Runner of the Year, the 2019 national champion in the 1,500-meter run, the 2019 ACC Men's Outdoor Track Performer of the Year, and one of the most accomplished and deco- rated individual performers in Notre Dame history in any sport, will an- chor this strong returning group dur- ing the 2021 season. Nuguse's time of 23:03.6 in his gold medal run last October in the 8K at the ACC Championships was the second-fastest time by an event winner since 1968. ✦ WORTH THE WAIT Irish men's cross country finished second at the rescheduled NCAA Championships The Fighting Irish — from left to right, freshman Josh Methner, junior Danny Kilrea, senior Yared Nuguse, senior Andrew Alexander, senior Kevin Salvano, sophomore Dylan Jacobs and freshman Jake Renfree — notched the program's best NCAA finish in 63 years. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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