Oct. 25, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The nationally-ranked Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will make the first of what they hope are three successful postseason appearances when they travel to Bronx, N.Y., on Friday for the 2005 BIG EAST Conference Championships at Van Cortlandt Park. The BIG EAST meet, which is being held with conference championships for the Ivy League and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, will begin with the women’s 6K race at 12:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 a.m. EST/CDT in South Bend), followed by the men’s 8K race at 1:10 p.m. EDT.
On the men’s side, No. 5 Notre Dame comes to the Big Apple as the defending BIG EAST champion, having edged Georgetown by a single point in last year’s meet at Franklin Park in Boston. The Hoyas, ranked ninth in the latest MONDO/USCCCA poll, will once again provide stern opposition, with 14-time league champion Providence earning votes in the poll as it looks to return to the top step of the podium for the first time since 2000.
Actually, this year’s venue — Van Cortlandt Park — has been quite friendly to the Irish, who have won the conference title three of the last four times the meet has been contested in the Bronx (1997, 1999, 2001). In addition, Ryan Shay won Notre Dame’s only individual men’s BIG EAST crown in 1999 at Van Cortlandt Park in 24:22, matching the third-fastest time posted in BIG EAST action at the site since 1994.
Veteran Irish head coach Joe Piane, a winner of the BIG EAST Men’s Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year award in 2001 and 2004, brings virtually the same lineup to the conference championships as the one that finished second in the White Division at the Pre-National Meet on Oct. 15 in Terre Haute, Ind. It’s also a group that has combined for seven all-BIG EAST citations, including four last season alone. Junior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) should set the pace for Notre Dame, following top-five finishes at the Notre Dame Invitational (fifth, 23:42) and Pre-Nationals (fourth, 23:49) in his two starts this season. Benninger earned all-BIG EAST honors at last year’s league meet after a seventh-place finish in 23:54. Senior Tim Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi), who picked up All-America honors last year, will be running right with Benninger and has a pair of top-15 finishes to his credit this year (10th, 23:59, at the Notre Dame Invitational; 14th, 24:05, at the Pre-Nationals). Moore also is a three-time all-conference selection, having placed in the top 10 at the BIG EAST meet each of the past three seasons, including a team-leading sixth-place finish in 23:53 last year.
Fifth-year senior Sean O’Donnell (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst) adds yet another experienced presence in the Irish lineup. O’Donnell comes into this year’s conference championships on the heels of a strong eighth-place showing (23:55) at the Pre-Nationals two weeks ago. He also garnered all-BIG EAST laurels in 2004 after finishing ninth at the conference meet (23:55). Senior Kaleb Van Ort (Waterloo, Ind./DeKalb) likewise will be out to make an impact as he returns to full strength following an extended layoff earlier this season due to injury. Van Ort made his season debut at the Pre-Nationals and charted a 28th-place finish (24:25), showing signs of returning the form that made him an all-league honoree in 2004 (eighth place, 23:54).
The hero of last year’s conference title run, senior Vinny Ambrico (Altamonte Springs, Fla./Choate Rosemary Hall Academy), is back in the Notre Dame lineup again this season. Ambrico passed four runners over the final 1,000 meters of the 2004 BIG EAST Championships, winding up in 17th place (24:27) and giving the Irish the one-point victory. Ambrico has raced twice this season, placing 66th at the Notre Dame Invitational (25:06) and sixth in the Pre-Nationals Open Race (25:23). Challenging Ambrico for the No. 5 scoring spot will be freshman Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) has had a solid rookie campaign, winning the National Catholic Championships (24:36) and ending up 34th at the Notre Dame Invitational (24:32). Junior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) finished 57th (24:45) at the Pre-Nationals, while sophomore Dan Curran (Naperville, Ill./Naperville North) was 78th (24:58) in the same race, and both men will run for the Irish on Friday. Rounding out the Notre Dame contingent is sophomore Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area), who placed 56th in the Notre Dame Invitational Gold Division race last month.
As for the women’s race, No. 4 Notre Dame is hungry to take back the BIG EAST title it held for two years in 2002-03 before Providence grabbed the hardware last season. The defending champion Friars are currently ranked 16th in the FinishLynx/WICCCA poll, while conference newcomer and 29th-ranked Marquette also could be heard from on Friday.
Similar to the Irish men, the women have found Van Cortlandt Park to their liking, winning their most recent conference title the last time the league meet was run there. Notre Dame women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly, himself a two-time recipient of the BIG EAST Women’s Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year plaque, will run much the same lineup as the one that placed second in the Blue Division race at the Pre-Nationals.
In two starts this year, senior Stephanie Madia (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) won the Notre Dame Invitational (16:36) and finished sixth at the Pre-Nationals, picking up right where she left off last season, when she won all-BIG EAST honors (10th, 21:00) and went on to earn All-America laurels with a 23rd-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, two-time All-America senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) has placed in the top 20 in both of her races this year, topping out with a runner-up placement at the Notre Dame Invitational (16:39). Huddle was been a mainstay at the front of the pack at the BIG EAST Championships the past three years, finishing in the top five (fifth in 2004 in 20:16) each time en route to all-conference honors. Sophomore All-American Sunni Olding (Minster, Ohio/Minster) is the third returning all-BIG EAST selection for Notre Dame, having come home 12th (21:04) last year. So far this season, she owns two top-10 placements — a first-place finish (17:42) at the National Catholic Championships and a ninth-place showing (17:14) at the Notre Dame Invitational. Highly-regarded freshman Ramsey Kavan (Yankton, S.D./Yankton) will make her conference championship debut, having lived up to her prep credentials thus far with a pair of top-15 finishes in two starts this year (11th, 17:16, at the Notre Dame Invitational; 15th, 20:38, at Pre-Nationals).
The remainder of the Irish lineup will feature two seniors — Elizabeth Webster (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child) and Jean Marinangeli (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) — as well as two juniors — Katie DeRusso (Fairport, N.Y./Fairport) and Amy Kohlmeier (Sarnia, Ontario/St. Patrick’s) — and freshman Morgan Schulz (Centennial, Colo./Aurora Smoky Hill).
Complete results from the BIG EAST Championships will be available upon conclusion of the day’s races at the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com) as well as the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000).
— ND —