May 26, 2007
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Friday was a day for the Notre Dame distance runners, as fifth-year senior All-American Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame Academy) and junior Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area) put their respective stamps in NCAA Mideast Regional history at the 2007 regional meet inside Audrey J. Walton Stadium on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo.
Huddle won the 5,000-meter title for the fourth time in her career, becoming the first four-time champion in any event in NCAA Mideast Regional history. Huddle also broke her own Mideast Regional record in the event, covering the distance in 16:02.56, topping the old mark of 16:12.42 that she established at the 2004 meet in Baton Rouge, La. In addition, Huddle shattered the Walton Stadium record in the 5,000 meters, a mark previously set by Colorado’s Sara Gorton (16:11.83) in 2002. In the process, Huddle automatically qualified for the NCAA Championship in the event, adding to her berth in the 10,000 meters that she claimed at the BIG EAST Conference Championship earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Watson was the top qualifier in the 1,500-meter preliminaries on Friday night, cutting the tape in 3:43.90 to set his own Mideast Regional record (previous: 3:44.53 by Arkansas’ Adam Perkins in 2005 at Bloomington, Ind.). An All-American in the indoor mile earlier this year, Watson led a group of four runners who all broke the 1,500-meter regional record, a quartet that included Irish senior All-American Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.), who was fourth in qualifying with a time of 3:45.79. It’s the first time Benninger has run in the event at regionals since his freshman season (2003), when he took fifth in the Mideast final and then placed 25th at the NCAA meet.
Sophomore Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) booked his own trip to the NCAA Championship in the 5,000 meters, finishing fourth in Friday night’s final (14:03.10). Last year, Smyth missed qualifying for the regional by 0.05 seconds at the Oregon Invitational, but he made no mistake this time around, easily qualifying for the regional with the No. 2 time in the Mideast and then joining a group of four runners who were less than three seconds off the pace of Wisconsin’s Chris Solinsky, who won in 14:00.71.
Senior All-American Thomas Chamney (Tipperary, Ireland/St. Columba’s) stayed alive in his bid to repeat as the Mideast Regional 800-meter champion, qualifying fifth in a season-best time of 1:48.55. Should he hold that position in Saturday’s final, Chamney would become the first Notre Dame runner (male or female) to be a two-time qualifier for the NCAA Championship in the outdoor 800 meters.
Freshman Balazs Molnar (Dunaujvaros, Hungary/Szechenyi Istvan) continued his remarkable rookie campaign with a sharp regional debut, advancing to the finals in the 400-meter hurdles after winning his heat and placing fifth overall with a time of 51.60 seconds. The regional time was one-tenth of a second off Molnar’s personal best (51.50 at the Mount SAC Relays in April), and it also unofficially goes down as the third-quickest mark in school history. What’s more, Molnar could be the first Notre Dame hurdler in 50 years to reach the NCAA Championship in the 400 hurdles, a feat last accomplished by Aubrey Lewis in 1957, when he finished third at the NCAA meet after winning a national title in the event a year earlier.
In the team standings, the Notre Dame women ended Friday’s competition tied with Alabama for seventh place with 10 points, courtesy of Huddle’s victory. The Irish men held down a share of 11th place with five points after Smyth’s 5,000-meter showing. Arkansas leads the women’s team standings with 19 points, while Louisville has the top men’s spot to date with 31 points.
Finals will be held in all remaining events during Saturday’s action at the Mideast Regional. Watson and Benninger will get things going for Notre Dame in the 1,500 final (4:20 p.m. CT/5:20 p.m. ET), with Chamney taking the track in the 800 final at 5:25 p.m. (CT), and Molnar following moments later in the 400 hurdles (5:40 p.m. CT). In addition, several other Irish athletes will be getting started — sophomore Anna Weber (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) leads off in the hammer throw at 11 a.m. CT, before sophomore Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) takes his turn in the high jump at noon (CT). Freshman Jaclyn Espinoza (Keizer, Ore./Regis) competes in the discus at 3:30 p.m. (CT), before the Irish field runners in both genders of the 3,000-meter steeplechase — senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) races at 6:15 p.m. (CT), before freshman Lindsey Ferguson (Greenfield Center, N.Y./Saratoga Springs) makes her regional debut at 6:40 p.m. (CT).
— ND —
EDITOR’S NOTE: This recap was delayed due to pending protests (since resolved) in the men’s 800 and 1500 meters, with both races having included Notre Dame athletes. None of the protests wound up affecting the placement of Irish runners in those events.