Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

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

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Page 56 of 63 NOV. 6, 2021 57 BY TODD D. BURLAGE F ielding one of the best men's cross country teams in the nation, Notre Dame head coach Sean Carlson spent the last two months peeking ahead to the ACC and NCAA Championship meets and spent little time worrying about the four smaller regular-season events his team competed in. In fact, Carlson put caution ahead of victory and didn't even race all of his top runners in those meets, and un- derstandably so. After winning the ACC title and finishing runner-up in the NCAA Championships during the 2020-21 season, injury risk didn't out- weigh competition benefit, until now. "We're going to run all of our horses the rest of the way," Carlson said. And it's an impressive stable he's cut- ting loose. Carlson returned each of his six top- scoring runners from the second-place NCAA team last season, and all are healthy and ready for another chance to dethrone defending national cham- pion and perennial cross country power Northern Arizona, which has won four of the last five titles. "We're certainly trying to ruin their party," Carlson said, "but it's going to be tough." Led by a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in March from then-junior Danny Kilrea — the pan- demic postponed the 2020 meet from its usual November date — Notre Dame packed five runners into the top-25 in its second-place performance, the highest team finish since finishing third in 2005. And Carlson believes that with a similar performance this season, the program's first national title since 1957 is attainable when the NCAA Champi- onships are held Nov. 20 in Tallahassee, Fla., eight days after the regional quali- fying round Nov. 12 in Evansville, Ind. — a meet that Notre Dame shouldn't have any problem advancing from. The Irish entered this postseason ranked first in the Great Lakes Region and eighth nationally. "I think we will be a team that will definitely be on the podium [top four fin- ishers] again," said Carlson, who believes his is one of about six or seven schools that will compete for those four spots. "How high up, that's a good question." Using a classic pack strategy, the four Irish runners behind Kilrea at the title meet in March — then-junior Dylan Jacobs, then-senior Andrew Alexander, then-sophomore Jake Renfree and then- senior Yared Nuguse — crossed the fin- ish line together 20th through 23rd, re- spectively. Also placing for the Irish was then-freshman Josh Methner at 36th. The top 40 finishers in the race all re- ceived All-America designations, and the Irish had the most of any school — six compared to Northern Arizona's four. A year older and presumably stronger, Kilrea is confident his group is ready for an encore and then some. "This team is ready for the postseason given the experience on our roster and our sheer dedication to building upon our success from last year," said Kil- rea, already a two-time All-American and the 2020-21 ACC Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year. The biggest question Carlson and the Irish face this postseason is whether Nuguse will be fully recovered physically and fitness-ready for the NCAA grind. Nuguse — a two-time national cham- pion in distance track and field — has been recovering from a quad injury he suffered in the summer while com- peting in the 1,500 meters for the U.S. Olympic team at the Tokyo Games. "I think he's in a really good spot now," Carlson said of Nuguse. "We're excited to see him start opening it up again and getting back to normal." ✦ Men's Cross Country Is Chasing Big Postseason Goals Two-time All-American Danny Kilrea leads a deep and talented Irish cross country squad in their quest to dethrone Northern Arizona as NCAA champions. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS ND SPORTS IRISH ROUNDUP WOMEN'S GOLF The Fighting Irish wrapped up their fall slate by carding a 41-over-par 905 to finish fourth out of 14 teams at the Olde-Stone Intercollegiate Oct. 25-26 in Simpsonville, Ky. HOCKEY (4-1-0 OVERALL, 0-0-0 BIG TEN) No. 14 Notre Dame split two games with RIT Oct. 15-16 in South Bend, falling to 3-2 in over- time before bouncing back for a 6-0 triumph the next day … The Irish open Big Ten play at Min- nesota Oct. 29-30. MEN'S SOCCER (9-4-2 OVERALL, 4-1-2 ACC) The No. 11 Irish played Duke to a 1-1 draw in two overtimes Oct. 22 … Notre Dame had an op- portunity to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title with a victory at North Carolina Oct. 29. WOMEN'S SOCCER (13-4-1 OVERALL, 7-3-0 ACC) No. 22 Notre Dame dropped a pair of hard- fought matches against top-10 foes on a road swing to the Tar Heel state, falling 1-0 in overtime at No. 2 Duke Oct. 21 and 2-1 at in two overtimes at No. 7 North Carolina Oct. 24 … The Irish defeated Wake Forest 2-1 in their regular-season finale Oct. 28. MEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING (3-0 OVERALL) The Irish were victorious in 12 of 16 events en route to defeating Purdue 180-20 Oct. 22 in South Bend. WOMEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING (3-0 OVERALL) No. 25 Notre Dame captured 15 of 16 events to cruise past Purdue 216.5-81.5 Oct. 22 in South Bend. VOLLEYBALL (9-11 OVERALL, 5-3 ACC) The Irish split a pair of home matches, drop- ping a hard-fought 3-2 decision to No. 4 Pitts- burgh Oct. 22 and then rebounding to knock off Virginia 3-0 Oct. 24. — Steve Downey

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