Track & Field

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Sparks Promoted to Irish Head Track and Field and Cross Country Coach

July 6, 2018

Matt Sparks, tutor of a series of top-flight distance standouts over his four years as University of Notre Dame associate head coach, has been named the Hatherly-Piane head coach for the Irish men’s and women’s track and field and cross country program.

Sparks has guided the Notre Dame cross country program, as well as coaching Irish women’s distance runners throughout the indoor and outdoor track seasons during those four years after holding a similar role at Southern Illinois University for 12 years.

“Matt's leadership of our very successful women's distance program during the past four years, the compelling endorsements given to us by his students and his passion for Notre Dame's mission make Matt the perfect choice to lead our program forward into what we believe can be an era of unprecedented success,” says University vice president and James E. Rohr director of athletics Jack Swarbrick.

“Growing up in Indiana, I have long felt that Notre Dame has always been a place of storied tradition,” says Sparks. “Having now spent four years at Notre Dame, this place is even more special to me. I now fully understand the tremendous pride felt for Notre Dame by students and the alumni of this University.

“It is with the utmost respect for this University that I look forward to leading the track and cross country program. I would like to thank the search committee led by Claire Leatherwood Slebonick and Reggie Brooks, as well as athletic director Jack Swarbrick and University president Father John Jenkins for believing in my vision for the program.”

His Notre Dame women’s distance crew in 2017-18 produced first-team All-America honors for Anna Rohrer after she finished sixth in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship (she was runner-up in that event in the Atlantic Coast Conference outdoor meet). Jessica Harris claimed first-team All-America recognition at the NCAA indoor meet with an eighth-place finish in the mile after defending her title in that event at the ACC indoor championship. Harris also earned first-team Academic All-America honors in 2018.

Sparks oversaw an Irish women’s distance squad that finished 11th overall at the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championship. Sparks led the Irish women to six ACC individual titles in 2016-17, including four by Rohrer (cross country, indoor 5,000 meters, outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 meters). Rohrer highlighted Notre Dame’s season with a third-place finish overall in the cross country national final. Sparks also coached Harris and Danielle Aragon to second-team All-America finishes in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship.

During his second season at Notre Dame, Sparks helped Molly Seidel to a spectacular year. She added to her national championship tally as she went on to win not only the individual NCAA Cross Country Championship, but also NCAA titles in the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meters. Seidel also won the individual ACC championship in cross country as well as the Great Lakes Regional individual crown. She continued her success during the indoor season and won ACC titles in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races. 

Under Sparks’ direction, the Irish women achieved a third-place finish at the 2015 ACC Cross Country Championship. Seidel’s and Rohrer’s performances at the NCAA Cross Country Championship elevated the team to an eighth-place finish.

In his first season at Notre Dame in 2014-15, Sparks coached Seidel through a standout junior campaign in both cross country and track and field. Seidel secured a national championship in the 10,000-meter run at the 2015 NCAA outdoor track and field meet--and that complemented her All-America performances at the NCAA indoor track and field championship and the NCAA cross country meet. The 2015 track and field season concluded with the women’s team garnering its highest finish in program history at the NCAA outdoor championships, placing 13th overall.

Sparks left Southern Illinois as its winningest cross country coach, with six Missouri Valley Conference crowns--men's titles in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 and a women's title in 2013 (the first for the Saluki women in 21 seasons). He began his tenure in Carbondale, Illinois, during the 2002-03 campaign and specialized in coaching cross country, middle-distance and distance events. 

Across both cross country and track he coached 51 MVC event champions, 127 MVC scholar-athletes and 10 NCAA event finals qualifiers. The MVC named Sparks its cross country coach of the year in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. He coached eight teams to NCAA Championship top-25 finishes, including the 2010 Saluki women's team that claimed ninth place at the outdoor track and field national championships. 

Sparks tutored five MVC most valuable track athletes and four MVC cross country athletes of the year. His 2003 Saluki women's squad (3.61) and his 2010 men's squad (3.6) had the second-highest grade-point averages in the nation. 

At Southern Illinois, Sparks spent his first two seasons as the women's cross country coach and women's distance coach in track until the men's and women's programs combined in 2004. After the merger he served as cross country coach and distance coach for both the men and women. 

Prior to his tenure at Southern Illinois, Sparks spent two years (2000-01 and 2001-02) as an assistant track and field coach at Ohio State, where he handled women's cross country and women's distance runners. He previously served three years (1997-98 to 1999-2000) on the Indiana University track and field staff--while also serving as executive director of the Indiana Track Club, the largest track club in the state. 

A standout student-athlete at Indiana, Sparks competed in cross country and ran the 3,000-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter events as well as the marathon. He served as the Hoosier team captain in cross country as both a junior and senior in 1995 and 1996, as well as in track and field as a senior in 1997. Indiana selected him as its 1996 cross country MVP, and he helped the Hoosier distance-medley relay squad finish as the 1994 Big Ten Conference runner-up.

Originally from Noblesville, Indiana, Sparks is a 1997 graduate of Indiana University with a degree in science education. He also earned a master's degree from Indiana in 1999 in applied sports sciences. 

Sparks and his wife Emily are parents of a son, Samuel, and two daughters, Eliza and Zoe.

Sparks replaces Alan Turner whose contract was not renewed after he spent four years as Notre Dame’s head track and field and cross country coach.

Year by Year with Matt Sparks
Year School Position
1997-98 Indiana University Volunteer Assistant Coach
1998-99 Indiana University Graduate Assistant Coach
1999-00 Indiana University Assistant Coach
2000-01 Ohio State University Assistant Coach 2001-02 Ohio State University Assistant Coach
2002-03 Southern Illinois University Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2003-04 Southern Illinois University Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2004-05 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2005-06 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2006-07 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2007-08 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2008-09 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2009-10 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2010-11 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2011-12 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2012-13 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2013-14 Southern Illinois University Men’s/Women’s Cross Country/Distance Coach
2014-15 University of Notre Dame Associate Head Coach/Women’s CC/Distance Coach
2015-16 University of Notre Dame Associate Head Coach/Women’s CC/Distance Coach
2016-17 University of Notre Dame Associate Head Coach/Women’s CC/Distance Coach
2017-18 University of Notre Dame Associate Head Coach/Women’s CC/Distance Coach
2018-19 University of Notre Dame Head Track and Field and Cross Country Coach

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