Athletics heads to Blacksburg for ACC Championships // The Observer
The Irish track and field team begins its indoor championship season this weekend at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The competition started on Thursday evening with the multi-event athletes and the medley distance relay team competing and will be followed by the other events on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s races will consist mainly of preliminary qualifying events, but the 5000m finals and some field event finals will also take place on Friday.
The Virginia Tech men and Florida State women enter the weekend as the defending conference champions.
The Irish look set to challenge for the tag team title on both the men’s and women’s side. The Notre Dame men are the highest-ranked ACC team in the latest United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll. The Irish come in at No. 7 ahead of No. 13 Florida State and No. 23 Clemson.
The Notre Dame women are currently No. 12 in the nation, just behind No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 11 NC State and ahead of No. 25 Duke.
Head Coach Matt Sparks arranged the trip so his athletes would get there long before they were scheduled to compete.
“You want to get to the meet 36 hours before so you can get on the track and get a feel for the terrain,” Sparks said. “You want to get there and do a little mini-workout before you compete the next day.”
The medley distance relay team entered with high expectations
“The medley relays are always a point of pride for our program,” Sparks said before the start of the competition. “We just broke both school records and set ourselves up nationally to do well.”
The DMR women’s team that competed Thursday night consisted of grad student Erin Sullivan, rookie Eve Balseiro, grad student Katie Ryan and junior Olivia Markezich. They currently sit in third place in the NCAA with their best time, but finished fourth on Thursday night.
Nuguse and Jacobs anchor the masculine side
There were few substitutions for the men compared to last week’s record team. Yared Nuguse dropped anchor again this weekend. The Irish graduate student broke an 18-year-old NCAA record in the 3,000 meters with a time of 7:38.13, beating a field of 133 runners at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University two weeks ago.
“Whenever you have Yared [Nuguse] at the end of a stint, you expect big things,” Sparks said.
Nuguse anchored the unit en route to a second-place finish Thursday night. The Louisville, Kentucky native had also previously held the NCAA record in his strongest event, the 1,500 meters. He ran a 3:34.68 in the prelims at the ACC Outdoor Championships last May en route to defending his ACC outdoor title. Nuguse was national champion in the 1500m in 2019 and runner-up in 2020.
The three-time All-American qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after finishing third in the US Olympic Trials, although he did not compete due to a quadratic strain. The reigning ACC cross-country runner and outdoor track performer of the year also set a conference record in the men’s mile with a run of 3:54.46 at the Notre Dame Invitational on Jan. 22.
Sparks is also hoping senior Dylan Jacobs can qualify for the national competition in the 3000m. Jacobs ran a spectacular 5,000m race a few weeks ago to rank fourth in the nation in that event, and Sparks is confident Jacobs can do well in the 3,000m as well.
“We think he can also compete nationally in the 3K and establish himself as a national athlete on the track where he has done it before in cross country,” Sparks said.
A team of Samuel Voelz senior and graduate students Max Frye, Time Zepf and Nuguse set the conference record in the DMR with a time of 9:21.73, beating the previous mark by more than four seconds. Notre Dame’s DMR last won the conference title in 2020.
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Sparks is proud of athletes who perform better than expected at ACC Championships.
“What we’re very proud of here are the kids we expect to be successful, like Yared Nuguse, Olivia Markezich and [graduate student thrower] Rachel Tanczos always pulls together and performs well,” Sparks said. “But what we’re proud of are guys like [sophomore] Nolan Blachowski, who appeared in every conference last year as a rookie in the men’s pole vault. There are people like this that you might not expect to do on paper, but they step in and do it.
Sparks hopes low-key athletes like Blachowski can rise to the occasion and contribute to the team’s score.
“[Blachowski] is a guy we are looking for a big improvement this year. For the moment, it is not expected to score in this meeting. But last year he wasn’t either and he found a way to rise to the occasion and contribute,” Sparks said. “We’re looking for people like that to get out of their routine of what they’ve been doing all year.”
Record throwers back in action
Sparks is thrilled to see Rachel Tanczos compete this weekend in a meet that put her on the national map a few years ago.
“It was there that she had her coming out party — her sophomore year at Virginia Tech where she won the conference championship out of the blue and rose to national prominence afterward,” said Sparks. “His last conference-level indoor competition should be fun to watch.”
Graduate student Rachel Tanczos came within an inch of winning the national title in the shot put last year, but was beaten by Louisville’s Makenli Forrest’s final shot. The two are set for another showdown this weekend.
Qualifying athletes for the NCAA Indoor Championships in three weeks is also very important. The top 16 scores from each event qualify for the competition, and Sparks hopes sophomore pitcher Michael Shoaf can move up the list. Shoaf broke his own program record in the shot put last weekend, finishing first in the event with a throw of 19.48 metres. He finished 22nd in the event at the NCAA National Outdoor Championships last year.
“Shoaf is just outside the national top 16 list. We’d like to see if he can find a few extra inches to qualify for national competition and help the men’s chances at national competition,” Sparks said. “Right now, the men are ranked seventh in the country and the women are ranked 12th. Any extra people we can sneak in there and maybe get a point or two would be helpful.
The entire ACC Championships can be streamed Friday and Saturday on ESPN.