Despite early struggles, Irish runners end up in right place

Tim Creason
Tribune Correspondent

MADISON, Wisc. — Notre Dame may struggle at the start of each season — we’re talking cross country, here — but somehow, the Irish end up in the right place at the end.

Two different Notre Dame women earned All-America honors — including former Mishawaka High School standout Anna Rohrer — and the Irish women finished eighth at Saturday’s NCAA cross country championships, their second Top 10 finish in four years.

And Notre Dame’s men, who were barely an afterthought in the running world a couple years ago, completed an amazing rebuilding effort with a 14th place finish in the national finals at Madison, Wisc.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Irish coach Matt Sparks, “what else can I say?”

Rohrer — a redshirt junior who missed a significant part of this season due to injury — pushed herself to the front of the field after a thousand meters, took the lead shortly thereafter, and forced the pace through the next two miles.

The missed training took a toll over the final thousand meters, however, and one by one, other runners slipped past Rohrer down the stretch. Colorado senior Dani Jones won the 6,000-meter (3.8 miles) race in 19:42.8. Rohrer ended up 10th in 20:02.4.

“The race didn’t start that fast, the first half of it, and I didn’t intend to lead,” said Rohrer. “I thought somebody else would take it, but they didn’t, so there I was.”

Many runners — especially the ones from southern states — were horrified when they woke Saturday morning and discovered an inch of snow on the course. Combined with freezing temperatures and an occasional wind gust, it made for tough running.

Rohrer, meanwhile, couldn’t have been happier. She’s a Mishawaka native, after all. And a power runner, meaning the footing didn’t bother her.

“I was definitely pumped for the weather today. These are like, my ideal conditions,” said Rohrer. “I was smiling when we got here.”

Rohrer’s finish is her third Top 10 effort in three tries, following a sixth-place finish as a freshman, and third place as a sophomore two years ago. This is the first time she ran the NCAA finals coming off an injury, though.

“Anna has learned how to manage things, the aches and pains, just like she has her entire life,” said Sparks. “She worked through the aches and pains in high school and came out better for it. It’s something she’s gotten good at.

“She’s had to limit her training significantly over the last month, and I think that’s what we saw today, limited training that didn’t push as hard as she would like over the last 2K. She pushed hard but the fitness wasn’t there.”

Rohrer’s 10th place finish earns another All-America award. The top 40 finishers at the NCAA finals are All-Americans.

And Rohrer was not alone. Graduate senior Jessica Harris, who has already earned a handful of All-America awards in track, collected her first in cross country, finishing 37th overall in 20:32.9.

She moved up from about 60th place at mid-race and was blazing down the homestretch.

“Conditions like this, with the snow and the hills, is where I really thrive,” said Harris. “I’ve had to start thinking of myself as a cross country runner, but I’ve realized that I’m pretty tough and I can do this.”

Freshman Jacqueline Gaughan suffered a spike wound in the first 800 meters and limped through most of the race with blood running down her leg. She gutted out a 64th place finish in 20:47.8.

“It got my knee,” said Gaughan. “It’s allright.”

Colorado won the women’s team title. Northern Arizona won the men’s.

Freshman Danny Kilrea isn’t usually the leader of the Irish men’s team, but Saturday that role fit him well, as he surged away from teammate Yared Nuguse after the halfway point and went on to claim All-America honors with a 33rd place effort. He finished the 10,000-meter (6.2 mile) men’s course in 29:55.2.

Nuguse was 59th in 30:13.6. Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald won the men’s individual title by one-half second over Stanford’s Grant Fisher.

Notre Dame’s top five men were a little over a minute apart at the finish. And among the teams they beat was Oregon. Considering how many of the Irish are freshman and sophomores, it’s a good sign for the future.

“Our goal is to get up on that (awards) podium,” Kilrea said. “That’s what we’re going to be working for.”

WOMEN (6,000 Meters)

TEAM SCORES: Colorado 65, New Mexico 103, Oregon 160, Michigan 213, Stanford 232, Boise State 288, BYU 310, Notre Dame 313, Washington 321, Wisconsin 325, Michigan State 341, Portland 344, North Carolina State 367, Arkansas 398, Iowa State 403, Florida 455, Indiana 455, Columbia 468, Oklahoma State 481, Penn State 482, Princeton 488, Ole Miss 509, Furman 527, Villanova 547, Southern Utah 564, Florida State 584, Oregon State 600, Georgia Tech 653, Minnesota 673, Dartmouth 751, Texas 862.

TOP 25 FINISHERS: 1, Dani Jones (Colorado) 19:42.8. 2, Weini Kelati (New Mexico) 16:45.3. 3, Jessica Hull (Oregon) 19:50.4. 4, Alicia Monson (Wisconsin) 19:55.2. 5, Ednah Kurgat (New Mexico) 19:55.8. 6, Allie Ostrander (Boise State) 19:56.9. 7, Erica Birk (BYU) 19:58.1. 8, Makena Morley (Colorado) 20:00.1. 9, Charlotte Prouse (New Mexico) 20:02.1. 10, Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame) 20:02.4. 11, Elise Cranny (Stanford) 20:02.8. 12, Weronika Pyzik (Oregon) 20:03.4. 13, Lauren LaRocco (Portland) 20:05.1. 14, Dorcas Wasike (Louisville) 20:08.2. 15, Tabor Scholl (Colorado) 20:09.9. 16, Elly Henes (NC State) 20:11.6. 17, Fiona O’Keeffe (Stanford) 20:11.7. 18, Aubrey Roberts (Northwestern) 20:13.5. 19, Katie Rainsberger (Washington) 20:15.2. 20, Savannah Carnahan (Furman) 20:19.2. 21, Annie Fuller (Michigan State) 20:20.4. 22, Sage Hurta (Colorado) 20:20.4. 23, Courtney Wayment (BYU) 20:20.6. 24, Tayler Tuttle (Colorado) 20:23.4. 25, Militsa Mircheva (Florida St) 20:26.3.

OTHER NOTRE DAME FINISHERS: 37, Jessica Harris 20:32.9 … 64, Jacqueline Gaughan 20:47.8 … 84, Rachel DaDamio 20:58.7 … 185, Sydney Foreman 21:45.6 … 221, Claudia Magnussen 22:09.6 … 228, Annasophia Keller 22:19.9.

MEN (10,000 Meters)

TEAM SCORES: Northern Arizona 83, BYU 116, Portland 160, Colorado 178, Stanford 201, Washington 213, Iowa State 220, Wisconsin 240, Colorado State 309, Boise State 342, North Carolina State 342, Wyoming 371, Oklahoma State 378, Notre Dame 401, Oregon 407, Eastern Kentucky 430, Ole Miss 431, Indiana 469, Michigan 483, Air Force 498, Southern Utah 523, Princeton 557, Villanova 577, Bradley 580, Arkansas 602, Syracuse 603, Texas 630, Iona 634, Purdue 702, Tulsa 777, Florida State 845.

TOP 25 FINISHERS: 1, Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin) 29:08.3. 2, Grant Fisher (Stanford) 29:08.8. 3, Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State) 29:09.0. 4, Isai Rodriguez (Oklahoma St) 29:10.5. 5, Aaron Templeton (Furman) 29:11.9. 6, Tyler Day (No Arizona) 29:12.9. 7, Amon Kemboi (Campbell) 29:14.6. 8, Joe Klecker (Colorado) 29:15.0. 9, John Dressel (Colorado) 29:16.9. 10, Conner Mantz (BYU) 29:17.1. 11, Ryan Forsyth (Colorado) 29:21.0. 12, Alfred Chelanga (Alabama) 29:27.4. 13, Alex Ostberg (Stanford) 29:33.9. 14, James Sugira (Eastern Ky) 29:35.6. 15, Matthew Baxter (No Arizona) 29:35.7. 16, Peter Seufer (Virgina Tech) 26:36.9. 17, Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin) 29:37.8. 18, Eric Hamer (Colorado St) 29:38.2. 19, Tanner Anderson (Washington) 29:40.8. 20, Paul Roberts (Wyoming) 29:41.4. 21, Emman Roudolff-Levisse (Portland) 29:41.7. 22, Rory Linkletter (BYU) 29:42.5. 23, Luis Grijalva (No Arizona) 29:44.3. 24, Connor McMillan (BYU) 29:48.1. 25, Logan Orndorf (Portland) 29:49.6.

NOTRE DAME FINISHERS: 33, Danny Kilrea 29:55.2 … 59, Yared Nuguse 30:13.6 … 97, Anthony Williams 30:35.8 … 145, Tyler Keslin 31:01.0 … 160, Andrew Alexander 31:08.7 … 167, Kevin Salvano 31:15.0 … 196, Bradley Wattleworth 31:36.7.

Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer, left, sprints down the homestretch beside Colorado’s Makena Morley at the finish of the NCAA women’s cross country championship race Saturday in Madison, Wisc.