NOTRE DAME – For much of the past year, Molly Seidel has been exploring dirt roads in Arizona and traveling wherever her car would take her.
With that in mind, standing on the starting line at Notre Dame’s Loftus Center took some getting used to Saturday.
“I have to get my mental focus back. It’s a different mindset when you’re racing,” said Seidel, a four-time NCAA track and cross country champion, after winning the one-mile run at Saturday’s Notre Dame Invitational.
The Irish fifth-year senior was making her first appearance on a track — at least, for a race — since the NCAA indoor finals last March. That’s where she won national championships in both the women’s 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs.
Injuries ended her outdoor season before it began, and after graduating with a degree in anthropology last June, Seidel took some time to go bumming around the West before deciding to enter graduate school and use her final year of eligibility.
In an event she rarely runs, Seidel won easily, clocking 4:44.75. Michigan’s Jaimie Phelan was four seconds back in the runner-up spot.
Notre Dame teammate and former Mishawaka standout Anna Rohrer was seventh, clocking 4:53.23.
Seidel took control pretty much from the start, with only Rohrer sticking with her through the first of five laps. Then she was all alone.
“Nobody wanted to play with me,” quipped Seidel. “Actually, I was feeling pretty good and just wanted to see how fast I could go.
“Why the mile? I figured I would start with a short, fast race and work on my pickups and surges,” she said.
To be certain, the mile isn’t Rohrer’s regular event, either. So the former high school state champ from Mishawaka wasn’t too upset afterwards, though she certainly wanted to run faster.
“I’m a little disappointed, because I’ve been working a lot on my leg speed and wanted a better time,” said Rohrer. “I went 4:48 in this same meet a year ago.
“It’s alright. I’m feeling so much stronger than I did last year, I think the faster times will show up when I get into my longer (3K and 5K) races,” said Rohrer.
Certainly, from a training standpoint, Seidel’s return has been a blessing for Rohrer, who missed her senior mentor during cross country season.
With the ACC indoor track championships scheduled at Notre Dame from Feb. 23-25, Rohrer hopes she and Seidel will be ready to put on a show.
“I want to run faster than last year, and I want us to repeat our 1-2 (in the 3K and 5K) at the ACC meet, in whatever order we happen to finish,” said Rohrer.
From a team standpoint, things didn’t go all that well for Notre Dame’s women Saturday. They entered the indoor track season ranked No. 9 in the country.
The Irish finished fourth in the seven-team meet with 66 ½ points. No. 12-ranked Michigan finished first with 113 points. Louisville was second.
Similar story in the men’s competition, where Michigan scored 133 for first place. Louisville was again second, and Notre Dame was fourth with 56.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Irish coach Alan Turner. “It’s still early, but the indoor track season is so short, you don’t have time to slip up. We need a lot more production out of our middle distance people.”
Despite the loss, there may be a silver lining in Notre Dame’s cloud. The Irish men may have found a sprinter.
Former Penn High School standout Tommy Grant finished second in the 200-meter dash, clocking a blistering 21.85 seconds. Troy Pride, a cornerback on the Irish football team, finished seventh (22.46).
Grant, who was a member of Penn’s state champion 4 x 100-meter relay squad in 2012, spent the last three years competing at Bethel College, before coming to Notre Dame as part of a 3-year/2-year mechanical engineering educational co-op.
Students spend their first three years at Bethel before finishing the program at Notre Dame. Though this is his first season with the Irish track team, Grant is a senior, eligibility-wise.
“I figured I was going to be here, anyway, and I had another year to run, so I figured, why not?” said Grant.
Grant also finished fourth in the 60-meter dash, after clocking the second-fastest time (6.87 seconds) in the qualifying heats.
In the final, he and Pride came across the finish line neck-and-neck, with Pride clocking 6.88 for third and Grant clocking 6.89.
“We need short sprinters, so (Grant) has come in and given us a big lift,” said Turner.
Speaking of lifts, Notre Dame got a big one in the men’s one-mile run from Jacob Dumford, who clocked 4:06.43 to finish first.
In the women’s meet, Notre Dame’s Samantha Murray clocked 1:33.02 to win the 600. And in the 3,000, Michigan’s Erin Finn – the NCAA runner-up in cross country last fall – recorded an amazing 9:07.24 to win by 10 seconds. That’s the fastest time in the nation this year.
MEN’S TEAM SCORES: Michigan 133, Louisville 86, Michigan State 61, Notre Dame 56, North Carolina 51, DePaul 40, Virginia 38.
WOMEN’S TEAM SCORES: Michigan 113, Louisville 89, North Carolina 74, Notre Dame 66 ½, Michigan State 65, Virginia 48, DePaul 9 ½.