June 7, 2007
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Senior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) became the fourth Notre Dame runner to qualify for the NCAA finals in his event, placing 12th in the semifinals of the 1,500-meter run during Thursday’s second night of competition at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, being held at the A.G. Spanos Sports Complex/Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, Calif. Benninger joins fifth-year senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame), senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) and sophomore Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) as the four-person Irish contingent that has successfully navigated through the qualification phase of their respective events and now is in position to compete for All-America honors and potentially, an NCAA championship.
Running in the second 1,500-meter semifinal on Thursday, Benninger covered the distance in a season-best time of 3:43.34 to place eighth in his heat. The top four finishers in each semifinal, as well as the runners with the next four fastest times, advance to Saturday’s finals, which will be contested at 11:10 a.m. PT (2:10 p.m. ET in South Bend) and broadcast live to a national television audience on CBS. Benninger claimed the final qualifying spot for Saturday’s 1,500 final by a mere nine-hundredths (.09) of a second ahead of California’s David Torrence, who put on a hard charge down the stretch, but couldn’t catch the Notre Dame veteran at the line.
Benninger is the first Irish thinclad to make the NCAA finals in the 1,500-meter run since 1986, when Jim Tyler turned in an eighth-place finish and earned All-America status. Notre Dame has fielded nine All-Americans in this event, dating back to when it was contested as a mile run. The Irish also have an NCAA outdoor mile champion, with Charles Judge taking home the hardware back in 1926. Benninger himself is making his second NCAA appearance in the 1,500 meters, having placed 25th overall during his freshman season (2004), when he clocked in at 3:55.13.
The other three Notre Dame runners will be back on the Hornet Stadium track Friday night in the finals of their events. Ptacek will lead off for the Irish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 7:10 p.m. PT, having qualified 10th overall (fifth in his heat) on Wednesday night with a personal-best time of 8:41.67. That time was fifth-best in school history and also met the “B” qualifying standard for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, scheduled for June 21-24 in Indianapolis. Making his first NCAA individual finals appearance, Ptacek could position himself to become the 11th Irish men’s track/cross country athlete to collect All-America and Academic All-AmericaÂ® honors in the same season (he was named Academic All-District on Thursday).
Smyth will be next to go for Notre Dame in the men’s 5,000-meter final at 7:45 p.m. PT on Friday. The second-year Irish standout placed fifth in the semifinal round (third in his heat) with a time of 13:57.32, giving him the opportunity to garner his first All-America citation in his first NCAA outdoor final. Like Ptacek, Smyth’s personal-best time of 13:48.53 at the Stanford Invitational (March 30) was good enough to top the “B” qualification for the USATF nationals in two weeks.
Huddle will cap off the night for the Irish in the women’s 5,000-meter final, which will start at 8:10 p.m. PT. The nine-time All-American will run her final race in the Notre Dame colors on Friday night, hoping to capture her first NCAA title after successive top-four finishes in 2003 (fourth), 2004 (third) and 2006 (second). Huddle eased through Wednesday’s semifinals, taking fourth overall (second in her heat) with a time of 16:18.13, well off her personal-best mark of 15:32.83 (second-fastest in the NCAA this year) at the Mount SAC Relays on April 13 — that time also exceeded the “A” qualification for the USATF nationals, one of two USATF “A” times Huddle has posted this year (also in the 10,000 meters).
Fans wishing to follow the progress of Notre Dame’s athletes at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships can do so via the Internet, with in-progress results available at Sacramento State’s official NCAA Championships web site. In addition, Huddle, Ptacek and Smyth all will be racing in their event finals before a national cable television audience on Friday, as CSTV (College Sports Television) airs live coverage of the NCAA outdoor meet from 5:30-8:30 p.m. PT (8:30-11:30 p.m. ET). CSTV is available on most cable systems and also can be found on DirecTV (Channel 610) and Dish Network (Channel 152).
— ND —