Nov. 8, 2001
Irish look to capitalize on Great Lakes Regional meet to earn spot in National Championships:
After two weeks of rest, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will take to the course again, this time in hopes of backing up their national rankings with strong performances in yet another meet filled with the stiff competition that has characterized the team’s season.
This weekend, the fifth-ranked Irish men and 19th-ranked women will travel down state to Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, Nov. 10, to take on other top national teams at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
While both teams have enjoyed national rankings this season, this weekend’s meet will be the key to earning spots at the NCAA Championships, to be held Nov. 19, in Greenville, SC. Each team that wins its regional meet is an automatic qualifier for the NCAA meet. All other teams are picked by a committee, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament.
The outlook is good for both Irish squads, as the men have been consistently ranked in the Top 25 all season, currently fifth, and the women have entered the rankings at numerous points in the season, entering this weekend’s competition as the 19th team in the nation.
The Irish men will have to contend with four other Top 25 teams in order to finish well in the regional competition. The toughest competition will likely come from Big Ten Champion Wisconsin, a team that is ranked right above the Irish at #4 in the nation. Michigan State, # 11 in the polls, as well as #19 Michigan, and #25 Indiana, also will provide tough competition, as all teams will be running for the trip to South Carolina and the chance to compete in the nationals.
Last year, the men’s squad took third at the Great Lakes Regional, a spot that was good enough to earn the Irish a slot at nationals, with Luke Watson winning the individual title. Watson, along with other top runners such as senior Marc Striowski and sophomore Todd Mobley, who have been top Irish finishers throughout the season, will be looked to for strong performances this weekend.
All three runners placed in the top 15 at the Irish’s most recent competition, the BIG EAST Championships, and all have performed well throughout the season. Of these three runners, none have placed below 14th in any meet this season, a true testament to the strength and consistency of the 2001 men’s team. The Irish will be running without All-American Ryan Shay at regionals this weekend, but the depth of the Irish team will likely allow for other runners to compensate for Shay’s absence.
The women’s team will be equally challenged, as they will be running against two other nationally ranked teams in Big Ten Champion and sixth-ranked Michigan State and #18 Marquette (which defeated the Irish at the National Catholic Invitational), as well as Wisconisn and Michigan, who each received votes in the national poll. The Irish will have to live up to their # 19 ranking and perform well to insure a national bid.
At last season’s Great Lakes Regional, Jennifer Handley led the team with a 19th place finish, as the team finished eighth overall, missing out on a spot in nationals. The Irish have shown the ability to put together very solid races this season (team victory at the Notre Dame Invitational and a fourth-place finish at the BIG EAST Championship) and they will need to run to their full potential to ensure a spot in the NCAA meet.
Handley, who has become a top runner and leader for the team, will be accompanied by a strong Irish contingent that has been greatly aided by the performances of two freshmen standouts. In her first collegiate season, Christi Arnerich has certainly made a name for herself in Irish cross country, placing well for the team in all of her competitions this season – most notably with a 25th place finish at the BIG EAST Championships. Arnerich is joined in the ranks of freshmen strength by Lauren King. While King has only run in the last three meets of the season, she has made her presence known, winning her first collegiate competition (Notre Dame Invitational) and finishing 24th at her first BIG EAST Championships two week ago.
When coupled with the likes of sophomore Megan Johnson, 14th at the BIG EAST Championships, the team gains added strength and depth that will be a virtue on the quest to place well in the regional race.
A storied history accompanies the men’s team in national competition, as the team has 43 years of NCAA championship history. At the 2000 NCAA championships, the team finished ninth overall, led by Luke Watson.
Watson finished seventh individually to earn All-American honors in last year’s national championships, and was joined in that honor by Pat Conway in 36th, both of whom are likely to take to the course this weekend with the men’s team.
By earning a national bid at this weekend’s regionals, the Notre Dame women’s team would be returning to the NCAA Championships after failing to earn the distinction in the 2000 season.
2001 Great Lakes Regional Cross Country Championship Information:
Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, Terre Haute, Ind.
Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001
Men’s Race: 11:00 a.m.
Women’s Race: 12:15 p.m.
Irish probable lineups: