Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2021

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

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60 PRESEASON 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE A fter working through their dis- jointed and disrupted 2020-21 sports seasons because of the CO- VID-19 pandemic, the Notre Dame student-athletes competing this fall are simply hoping to find some sem- blance of normalcy when they return to action with nearly a 100 percent vaccination rate alongside easing re- strictions. But even through a 2020 fall sports season that was unlike any other, many Irish athletes and teams still excelled. Highlighted by a second- place national finish by the Irish men's cross country team, along with a second-place ACC showing and run to the NCAA Tournament in vol- leyball, the 2020 Olympic fall sports season was as memorable through fine performances as it was forget- table through the COVID chaos. Following is a preview of the seven Olympic sports programs at Notre Dame: men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, and vol- leyball. MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY Season Opener: Winrow-Valparaiso Open Sept. 3 at Valparaiso, Ind. ACC Predicted Finish: Champions. NCAA Best-Case Scenario: Win the national title. Coach's Expectations: The Irish men's team that finished second at the 2020 NCAA Championships returns all six of its top runners this season. Notre Dame put five competitors in the top 25 at that race to finish behind only perennial cross country power Northern Arizona. Head coach Sean Carlson expects his guys to be in the mix for a title run again this season. "We're certainly in the conversation," he said. "And if things go right for us, I think that gives us a realistic shot at a national championship." Carlson said he plans to bring his athletes along gradually and not even race his top runners until late this season. Top Runner: Senior Danny Kilrea, a two-time All-American and the 2020-21 ACC Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year, led the Irish in at the NCAA Championships with a 10th-place finish. Athlete To Watch: Senior Yared Nuguse, a 2019 national champion in the 1,500 meters and a mem- ber of the Irish distance medley, is recovering from a quadriceps injury he suffered while at the Tokyo Olympics. He'll compete in the 1,500 meters. Don't Miss: Beyond the ACC Championships, the only meet to watch for this team is the NCAA Championships Nov. 20 in Tallahassee, Fla. WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY Season Opener: Winrow-Valparaiso Open Sept. 3 at Valparaiso, Ind. ACC Predicted Finish: Second or third. NCAA Best-Case Scenario: Top 15. Coach's Expectations: Because the 2020 cross country season was split — it started in the fall, shut down in December and January, then re- sumed in February — distance coaches had to decide in the spring on whether to focus on cross country or outdoor track because the seasons overlapped. Based on personnel, Irish women's head coach Matt Sparks and his athletes chose the latter. Notre Dame finished a disappointing sixth at the ACC Championships, and Sparks said his team is excited to get back to work with some added motivation to rejoin the elite teams in the league. "It's nice to empower a group of seven to 10 women to get in a workout together," he said. "It keeps each other that much more accountable as they aspire for larger team goals." Top Runner: Senior Maddy Denner, an outdoor track second-team All-American in the 5,000-me- ter run, paced the returning Irish runners with a 17th-place finish at the ACC Championships. Athlete To Watch: Senior Katie Rose Blachowicz will bring her distance talents to cross country af- ter competing for Notre Dame in the 10,000-meter run at the national outdoor meet in the spring. Don't Miss: Notre Dame will look to return to the top tier of the conference Oct. 29, when it hosts the ACC Championships on campus. MEN'S GOLF Season Opener: Marquette Invitational Sept. 5-7 at Erin Hills, Wis. ACC Predicted Finish: Between third and sixth. NCAA Best-Case Scenario: Advance from the NCAA Regionals to the NCAA Championships for the first time in program history. Coach's Expectations: Another Notre Dame team that survived and thrived under the COVID-19 cloud, the Irish cracked the top 10 nationally be- fore their season was temporarily shut down, then qualified for their first NCAA Tournament as a team since 2012. Notre Dame finished eighth in the 13-team regional at Stillwater, Okla., and returns every member from that team this season. "We're doing a lot of great things, and the pro- gram is in good shape," Irish head coach John Handrigan explained. "We have a lot of guys who can lead us on a given day." Top Player: With a 71.79 career scoring average, graduate student Davis Chatfield returns with the second-lowest stroke average in program history. In mid-August, Chatfield advanced into the quar- terfinal round of the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship. Athlete To Watch: Along with Chatfield, junior Palmer Jackson (71.67 strokes per round) was the other Irish golfer to finish all of last season under par. Don't Miss: In preparation for another postsea- son run in the ACC and NCAA next spring, Notre Dame will host the highly competitive Fighting Irish Classic Oct. 4-5. WOMEN'S GOLF Season Opener: Wolverine Invitational Sept. 13- 14 at Ann Arbor, Mich. ACC Predicted Finish: Between seventh and 11th. Fall Teams Finally Finding Some Normalcy Senior Danny Kilrea, a two-time All-American, paced the Irish with a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships en route to a runner-up showing last season. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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