Matt Sparks joined the University of Notre Dame cross country and track and field program as the associate head coach in August 2014. A highly successful assistant track and field coach for the previous 12 years at Southern Illinois University, Sparks' area of concentration with the Fighting Irish will be guiding the women’s cross country program, as well as coaching Notre Dame distance runners throughout the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
His second season at Notre Dame, Sparks was able to help coach Molly Seidel to another spectacular year. She added to her national championship tally as she went on to win not only the NCAA Cross Country Championship, but also NCAA titles in the indoor 3,000m and indoor 5,000m. Seidel also won the ACC Championship in cross country as well as the Great Lakes Regional. She continued her success in the indoor season and won ACC Championship titles in the 3,000m and 5,000m races.
Sparks was able to build exceptional depth with the newcomers on the team, with Anna Rohrer headlining that class. Under his direction, the women were able to get a third-place finish at the 2015 ACC Championships. At regionals, the team was able to get an automatic bid after the Irish’s performance landed them in second-place. Seidel’s and Rohrer’s performances at the NCAA Championships, elevated the team to an eighth-place finish. The men’s team was highlighted by the individual performance of Michael Clevenger that led him to the NCAA Championships, where he placed 38th out of 254 runners. The team was able to improve upon last year’s showing, where they placed sixth in the ACC Championships and fourth in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
In his first season at Notre Dame, Sparks coached Molly Seidel through a standout junior campaign in both cross country and track and field. To headline her many accomplishments, Seidel secured a national championship in the 10,000-meter run at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The national title complemented her All-America performance at the NCAA indoor championships and All-America standing at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Along with Seidel’s individual achievements, Sparks led the Notre Dame women’s cross country team to a fifth-place finish at the 2014 ACC Championships. The team went on to earn an at-large selection to the NCAA championships after placing sixth at the 2014 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships. Ultimately, the Irish women claimed 29th at the NCAA championships. The men’s cross country season was highlighted by a NCAA individual qualification for then junior Michael Clevenger. The Irish men supplemented Clevenger’s performance with a seventh-place showing at the ACC championships and sixth-place finish at the Great Lakes regional.
The track and field season concluded with a women’s team garnering its highest finish in program history at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, placing 13th overall. The previous high for the Irish came in 1999 when the team earned 17th place. Clevenger put together a performance to note, leading the Notre Dame men’s distance core and picking up second team All-America recognition in the 5,000 meters.
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, Ill. 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, 140 all-MVC performers, 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 national championships.
Sparks tutored five MVC most valuable track athletes and four MVC cross country athletes of the year. He has seen at least one Southern Illinois athlete in every distance event qualify for the NCAA regional meet. In addition to working with two cross country All-Americans at Southern Illinois, he coached two outdoor track Second Team All-Americans and 10 USA Track & Field Junior All-Americans. He produced one USATF Junior National Champion, a World Junior competitor and a Pan American Junior competitor.
Sparks coached 11 cross country teams at Southern Illinois that earned national academic honors. 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.
"Matt gets the most out of his athletes. He's proven that year after year," Notre Dame track and field head coach Alan Turner said. "He is going to be great one on one with his athletes, both personally and as far as putting together great training programs. Whatever is ailing them, physically or mentally, he's going to solve it to get the most out of them. In addition, he has proven himself to be a tireless recruiter. Matt very much wants to be here at Notre Dame. I'm confident people down the line are going to say, `He was a great addition to the staff.'"
Turner and Sparks are hardly strangers. They previously spent five years together (2005-06 to 2009-10) as assistant coaches on the Southern Illinois staff.
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. Since that time, he has 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, working as a volunteer assistant, graduate assistant and then an assistant coach--while also handling duties 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 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m 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. At the high school level, Sparks six times won all-state recognition in cross country and track and field at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Three times he claimed top-five finishes in the Indiana state high school cross country meet.
Originally from Noblesville, Sparks is a 1997 Indiana graduate 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 a daughter, Eliza.