Oct. 31, 2001
Strong BIG EAST Conference performance launches women’s team back into the top 25, both teams begin preparations for NCAA regional action:
Two of the most important races of the season loom ahead for the Irish men’s and women’s cross country teams, but with the men earning their third BIG EAST Championship title last weekend and the women placing fourth in a highly-competitive field, both teams have added confidence heading into the NCAA Great Lakes regional in Terre Haute, Ind., next Saturday, Nov. 10.
The Irish will not compete this weekend, using both this week and next to fine tune for the regional competition. If the teams are able to continue the strong performances characteristic of their competition this season, both are probable selections for the NCAA Championships, to be held Nov. 19, in Greenville, SC.
Irish women utilize blend of experience and youth as a springboard to national ranking:
The Notre Dame women’s team, ranked 24th in the nation earlier in the season, was rewarded for its BIG EAST efforts with a reentry into the rankings at 19th. After taking sixth place in the BIG EAST Championships last season, the Irish were searching for a higher finish and accomplished that goal while facing one of the toughest conference fields in the nation. Third-ranked Georgetown, #5 Boston College, #8 Providence and #16 Villanova (rankings indicated were the spots occupied before the BIG EAST meet) were in the BIG EAST Championship field last weekend.
The Irish were led by junior Jen Handley’s seventh-place finish, taking the course in 20:45. Handley, who placed 31st last year, has made great strides over the past year, establishing herself as one of the top Irish distance runners over the course of the 2001 track and field and cross country seasons. The champion of the 2001 National Catholic meet and third-place finisher at the Notre Dame Invitational, Handley clearly serves as the top veteran and competitive leader for the Irish this season.
Coupled with the experience of Handley and her fellow juniors, Jennifer Fibuch and Muffy Schmidt, the Irish also have a squad loaded with underclassmen talent. This has been a season of exceptional freshmen performances for the Irish, punctuated by the fact that the team roster for the BIG EAST meet did not include a single senior. The 2001 Notre Dame rookie class is led by Lauren King and Chrisiti Arnerich, who were the third and fourth Irish runners across the finish line at the BIG EAST Championship.
Last weekend’s meet marked just the third collegiate race and first championship meet experience for King, but the rookie responded well with a 24th-place (21:50) finish. King has already made her mark on the Notre Dame team, finishing first overall in the Notre Dame Invitational – which was her first race as a member of the Fighting Irish.
Arnerich also has made a large impact on the squad in her rookie season, opening her collegiate career as the top Irish finisher at the Valparasio Invitational with a fourth-place finish, and contributing to the team’s fourth-place result at the BIG EAST meet with her best race of the season (finishing 25th overall).
Sophomore Megan Johnson improved significantly over her 39th-place finish at the 2000 BIG EAST Championship to move up to 14th place in 2001, the second finisher across the line for the Irish. Jennifer Fibuch, a consistent Irish runner who has contributed in each race this season, continued to produce strong finishes for the team. Her 37th-place effort as the number six runner, up from her 40th place finish in 2000, helped Notre Dame finish ahead of 16th-ranked Villanova. Close behind Fibuch was Muffy Schmidt in 44th, followed by sophomore Rachel Endress in 48th.
With a strong mix of experience and youth, the Irish will have high expectations for the NCAA Regional Meet, with a possible berth in the NCAA Championship meet on the line. With a national ranking in hand, the Irish will be a target for others at the 2001 Great Lakes Regional. The team also will have to contend with several other Top-25 rivals that will be competing – including sixth-ranked Michigan State. Marquette, currently ranked 18th in the nation and the winner of the 2001 National Catholic Invitational, also will be in the women’s Great Lakes Regional field.
Men Continue Impressive Season with BIG EAST Victory:
In the middle of one of the most successful cross country seasons in Notre Dame history, the Irish men held on to its fifth place national ranking (the highest in school history) with some exceptional performances en route to a BIG EAST team championship last weekend.
The team has won all but one meet this season, placing second in its division of the Pre-National Championships to top-ranked Colorado. Overcoming such highly-ranked BIG EAST opponents as Providence and Villanova, ranked eighth and 14th in the country at the time, the Irish demonstrated their power and depth with a three-point victory over Villanova.
Senior Luke Watson led Notre Dame to its repeat championship performance at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (the Irish won the team championship the last time the meet was held at Van Cortlandt in 1999) earning all-BIG EAST honors with a second place finish in 24:22. Senior Dan Wilson of Connecticut just edged Watson at the finish line for the individual title. Watson has not finished below fourth in a race this season and is one of the most consistent runners for the Irish. The senior co-captain will continue to serve as one of the team’s top leaders entering the NCAA Championship season.
Sophomore Todd Mobley, 26th at the 2000 BIG EAST championships, finished eighth last weekend, continuing a strong season that has seen Mobley perform as one of the top Irish runners in almost each race this year.
On this experienced team, the third, fourth, and fifth Irish runners were all members of the senior class. Marc Striowski finished ninth overall, followed by All-American Ryan Shay in 11th and Sean Zanderson in 19th.