Notre Dame's Molly Seidel races to national cross country title

Tim Creason
Tribune correspondent

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Prior to Saturday, two strange facts were true about collegiate women's cross country.

One: No woman from Notre Dame had ever won an NCAA championship.

Two: No winner of the Foot Locker High School national cross country meet ever went on to win the NCAA title.

In one brilliant moment, Notre Dame senior Molly Seidel ended both curses.

Emerging from a grove of trees about 400 meters from the finish, Seidel surged away from Boise State's Allie Ostrander to win the NCAA women's cross country championship Saturday in Louisville.

Starting conservatively and picking up the pace steadily as the race went along, Seidel dropped her opponents one-by-one until none were left, finishing the 6,000-meter (3.8 mile) course at Kentucky's Tom Sawyer State Park in 19 minutes, 28.6 seconds.

And in the process, she carried one of her teammates to a height that few had foreseen ahead of time: Anna Rohrer.

The former Mishawaka High School star, in her first NCAA championship appearance, finished sixth overall, clocking 19:59.7.

The solid 1-2 punch provided by Seidel and Rohrer enabled the Irish women to far surpass their No. 15 ranking, as they scored 276 points to finish eighth in the final team standings.

No. 1-ranked New Mexico, as expected, won the women's team title.

"A top 10 finish has been our goal since the beginning," said Notre Dame coach Matt Sparks. "It's been quite the day."

Seidel and Rohrer actually led much of the race, running close beside each other through the 4K mark.

As 5K approached, Seidel had to leave her teammate, but Rohrer held on gamely, moving quickly down the homestretch to earn All-America honors.

(The top 40 finishers in an NCAA championship race are All-Americans.)

By the final thousand meters, only the diminutive Ostrander - who many considered a pre-meet favorite - was still in contention with Seidel.

The Irish senior ended that with 800 to go, breaking contact and pulling ahead for a five second victory.

"I tried to go and make it hurt, squeeze that pace down," said Seidel, who adds the cross country title to the 10,000-meter track championship she won last spring. "If somebody is going to beat me, I'm going to make them bleed to do it."

For many years, cross country fans were baffled that the national high school champ had never gone on to win an NCAA women's title. Seidel, a Hartland, Wis., native, won the Foot Locker championship in 2011.

It should be noted that Rohrer -- who was the second-highest finishing freshman Saturday -- also won Foot Locker titles in 2012 and 2014.

Sparks revealed that a bicycle accident earlier in the week had left Seidel a bit bruised and battered, and on Monday she wasn't even sure if she could make the trip.

With a national title on the line, however, she healed quickly.

"(Seidel) is a special kid and just does special things," said Sparks. "She's got a new-found confidence and that's the key thing."

Running with Seidel made a huge difference, Rohrer said.

"It's so encouraging," said Rohrer. "When we got (onto the homestretch) I could tell she was going to win. I was so excited for her, and then I started thinking, I've got to focus on my own race."

Along the race path, one of the fans going absolutely nuts was Mishawaka coach Chris Kowalewski.

"Yeah, I could hear him," laughed Rohrer. "It was really encouraging."

Running in the lead pack with Rohrer and Seidel for much of the race was Oregon senior Waverly Neer, a former Indiana high school champ from Culver Academies.

Neer broke down a little in the final 800 meters and finished 27th in 20:19.8.

"With this meet, you have to go out aggressive," said Neer, who earned All-America status for the third time in her career (twice in cross country, once in track).

She was especially proud that she led her teammates to a third-place overall finish.

"It was my last cross country race so I tried to go out there and crack the Top 20," said Neer. "I was just a little bit shy of that but I can't be disappointed when the Ducks walk away with a third."

In addition to the top two, Notre Dame received a 96th-place finish from Rachel DaDamio. Karen Lesiewicz was 135th and Annie Heffernan 138th. There were 254 finishers.

In the men's race, Notre Dame's Michael Clevenger finished 39th to give the Irish three All-Americans on the day. He clocked 30:27.9 over 10,000 meters.

Syracuse won the men's team title. Oregon's Edward Cheserek won his third men's individual title.

NCAA DIV. I CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN

Team scores: New Mexico 49, Colorado 129, Oregon 214, Providence 231, North Carolina State 264, Michigan 264, Oklahoma State 274, Notre Dame 276, Arkansas 276, Washington 297, Boise State 330, Syracuse 359, Michigan State 368, Stanford 379, Virginia 386, Penn State 396, Mississippi State 405, Minnesota 471, Vanderbilt 474, Georgetown 491, Princeton 524, Weber State 558, BYU 591, Iowa State 591, Gonzaga 615, Utah 618, Kansas 625, San Francisco 636, Tulsa 646, Villanova 667, Texas 828.

TOP 40 FINISHERS: 1, Molly Seidel (Notre Dame) 19:28.6. 2, Allie Ostrander (Boise State) 19:33.6. 3, Dominique Scott (Arkansas) 19:40.9. 4, Courtney Frerichs (New Mexico) 19:48.0. 5, Alice Wright (New Mexico) 19:53.1. 6, Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame) 19:59.7. 7, Allie Buchalski (Furman) 20:02.6. 8, Maddie Meyers (Washington) 20:03.1. 9, Brenna Peloquin (Boise State) 20:04.3. 10, Sharon Lokedi (Kansas) 20:04.9. 11, Erin Clark (Colorado) 20:05.4. 12, Ednah Kurgat (Liberty) 20:06.7. 13, Rhona Auckland (New Mexico) 20:07.1. 14, Chelsea Blaase (Tennessee) 20:07.2. 15, Calli Thackery (New Mexico) 20:07.3. 16, Kaitlyn Benner (Colorado) 20:07.7. 17, Alyssa Schneider (Illinois) 20:09.4. 18, Letitia Saayman (Coastal Carolina) 20:09.8. 19, Erin Finn (Michigan) 20:10.2. 20, Sarah Collins (Providence) 20:11.2. 21, Alexis Wiersma (Michigan State) 20:12.1. 22, Hannah Everson (Air Force) 20:15.5. 23, Natalie Schudrowitz (Brown) 20:16.7. 24, Molly Renfer (New Mexico) 20:17.5. 25, Regan Rome (William and Mary) 20:17.7. 26, Erin Teschuk (North Dakota St.) 20:18.4. 27, Waverly Neer (Oregon) 20:19.8. 28, Olivia Pratt (Butler) 20:20.3. 29, Blanca Fernandez (Temple) 20:20.7. 30, Laura Rose Donegan (New Hampshire) 20:20.9. 31, Alli Cash (Oregon) 20:20.9. 32, Carolyn Pietrzyk (Vanderbilt) 20:21.2. 33, Molly Grabill (Oregon) 20:21.8. 34, Samantha Jones (Wake Forest) 20:22.8. 35, Ingeborg Loevnes (Oklahoma State) 20:23.2. 36, Karis Jochen (Texas A&M) 20:23.9. 37, Marta Freitas (Mississippi State) 20:26.7. 38, Tessa Barrett (Penn State) 20:26.7. 39, Catarina Rocha (Providence) 20:26.8. 40, Vanessa Fraser (Stanford) 20:27.7.

MEN

Team scores: Syracuse 82, Colorado 91, Stanford 151, Oregon 183, Iona 231, Arkansas 244, Louisville 331, Washington 345, Michigan 348, Georgetown 352, UTEP 354, BYU 406, Furman 423, UCLA 429, Oklahoma 432, Boise State 435, Eastern Kentucky 446, Oklahoma State 450, Minnesota 464, Tulsa 468, Southern Utah 477, Virginia 480, California 524, Penn 526, Michigan State 543, Washington State 547, Virginia Tech 581, North Carolina State 596, Florida State 598, Mississippi 607, Texas 833.

TOP 40 FINISHERS: 1, Edward Cheserek (Oregon) 28:45.8. 2, Patrick Tiernan (Villanova) 29:11.1. 3, Pierce Murphy (Colorado) 29:37.0. 4, Justyn Knight (Syracuse) 29:46.1. 5, Jonathan Green (Georgetown) 29:49.5. 6, Jim Rosa (Stanford) 29:52.7. 7, Sean McGorty (Stanford) 29:53.4. 8, Colin Bennie (Syracuse) 29:55.9. 9, Martin Hehir (Syracuse) 29:59.5. 10, Marc Scott (Tulsa) 30:02.6. 11, Jonah Koech (UTEP) 30:04.4. 12, Erik Peterson (Butler) 30:05.0. 13, Jefferson Abbey (Colorado State) 30:05.3. 14, Thomas Awad (Penn) 30:06.1. 15, Anthony Rotich (UTEP) 30:06.6. 16, Jacob Burcham (Oklahoma) 30:06.7. 17, Grant Fisher (Stanford) 30:07.9. 18, Ernest Kibet (Louisville) 30:09.4. 19, Jerrell Mock (Colorado St) 30:10.3. 20, Gilbert Kirui (Iona) 30:11.3. 21, Lane Werley (UCLA) 30:13.3. 22, Thomas Curtin (Virginia Tech) 30:15.1. 23, Jack Bruce (Arkansas) 30:15.3. 24, Trent Lusignan (South Dakota St) 30:15.6. 25, Morgan Pearson (Colorado) 30:16.1. 26, John Dressel (Colorado) 30:16.4. 27, Hassan Omar (UMBC) 30:16.8. 28, Kyle Eller (Air Force) 30:17.3. 29, Dylan Lafond (Illinois) 30:18.2. 30, Izaic Yorks (Washington) 30:19.3. 31, Ben Saarel (Colorado) 30:19.8. 32, Colby Gilbert (Washington) 30:20.0. 33, Connor Winter (Colorado) 30:21.7. 34, Luke Traynor (Tulsa) 30:22.3. 35, Hayden Hawks (Southern Utah) 30:22.8. 36, Joel Reichow (South Dakota St) 30:22.8. 37, Jaime Perales (Eastern Kentucky) 30:24.3. 38, Michael Clevenger (Notre Dame) 30:27.9. 39, Philo Germano (Syracuse) 30:29.5. 40, Frankline Tonui (Arkansas) 30:29.6.

*NOTE: Top 40 finishers earn All-American status from US Association of Track & Cross Country Coaches (USTFCCCA).

Notre Dame senior Molly Seidel (404) and freshman Anna Rohrer (403, right) lead the field just past the halfway point of Saturday's NCAA women's cross country championship race in Louisville. Obscured at far left, just behind Sarah Collins of Providence (501), is Oregon senior Waverly Neer, a former Culver Academies star. Photo / Tim Creason