Patrick Smyth takes 5,000-meter run BIG EAST title.

Irish Distance Trio Advances To Finals At NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

June 6, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Three Notre Dame distance runners successfully advanced to the finals in their respective events on the first day of the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which opened Wednesday night at the A.G. Spanos Sports Complex/Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, Calif. Fifth-year senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) moved on to the women’s 5,000-meter final for the fourth time in her career, while senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) stayed alive in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, and sophomore Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) did likewise in the men’s 5,000 meters. All three runners will be back on the track in their nationally-televised event finals Friday evening.

Huddle finished second in the slower-paced opening semifinal heat of the 5,000 meters, covering the distance in 16:18.13 to end up behind only Michelle Sikes of Wake Forest (16:16.31). The top six finishers in each of the two semifinal heats, as well as the next four fastest times, all qualified for Friday’s final, which will be run at 8:10 p.m. PT (11:10 p.m. ET in South Bend). Huddle has finished in the top four in each of her three previous NCAA outdoor 5,000-meter finals, including last year’s runner-up placement that was the best ever for a Notre Dame female in any NCAA Championship competition.

Running in his first NCAA race, Ptacek looked every bit the wily veteran on Wednesday night, taking fifth place in the first steeplechase semifinal (and 10th overall in the field) with a personal-best time of 8:41.67 that was a full six seconds better than his previous best (8:47.87 at the NCAA Mideast Regional on May 26). Ptacek’s time also was the fifth-fastest in school history, and best since Luke Watson ran 8:41.66 at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Watson was the last Irish thinclad to advance to the NCAA steeplechase finals with an All-America seventh-place finish in 2002. John Cowan (1995) and Jim Kittell (1948) are the only other Notre Dame steeplechasers ever to make the NCAA finals, with Kittell’s third-place performance setting the school standard in the event. This year’s steeplechase final is set for Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT.

Also appearing in his first NCAA outdoor meet, Smyth was part of perhaps the most exciting finish of the evening in the second semifinal of the men’s 5,000-meter run, as he finished third in the heat (fifth overall) in a time of 13:57.32. For comparison, the top seven runners in that second semifinal were separated by less than one second, and the last-place finisher in the heat (Samuel Chelanga of Fairleigh Dickinson) had a time that would have won the much-slower first semifinal heat by more than 13 seconds. Smyth is the fifth Irish harrier to make the NCAA outdoor 5,000-meter finals, joining Watson (ninth in 2003), Ryan Shay (sixth in 2001), Mike O’Connor (12th in 1990) and Dan Garrett (10th in 1988) in that club. Smyth’s 5K final is set for Friday at 7:45 p.m. PT.

Sophomore Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) shook off some early nerves in his first NCAA Outdoor Championships and tied for 17th place in the men’s high jump preliminaries, but did not advance to the finals. Majcina missed on his first two attempts at 6 feet, 8.75 inches (2.05 meters), but cleared the bar on his third try. However, he didn’t find success on all three attempts at 6-11 (2.10 meters), which turned out to be the cutoff point for advancement to the finals.

Freshman Jaclyn Espinoza (Keizer, Ore./Regis) made her NCAA debut on Wednesday, finishing 22nd in the women’s discus throw with a top mark of 159 feet, 2 inches (48.52 meters), which came on her first attempt of the competition. Espinoza was the first Notre Dame female thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and the first Irish thrower of either gender to do so in 62 years.

Senior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) will be the lone Notre Dame athlete in action on Thursday, as he races in the semifinals of the men’s 1,500-meter run at 6:05 p.m. PT. Benninger is in the second semifinal heat and is aiming to be the first Irish runner to make the finals in that event since Jim Tyler in 1986.

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 through 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 —

2007 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
June 6, 2007
Sacramento, Calif. (A.G. Spanos Sports Complex/Hornet Stadium)

NOTRE DAME FINISHERS (* – advanced to finals)
Women’s 5,000-meter semifinal heat 1:
2. Molly Huddle (ND)* 16:18.13

Men’s 5,000-meter semifinal heat 2: 3. Patrick Smyth (ND)* 13:57.32

Men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinal heat 1: 5. Todd Ptacek (ND)* 8:41.67

Men’s high jump qualifying: 17. (tie) Blair Majcina (ND) 6-8.75 (2.05m)

Women’s discus qualifying: 22. Jaclyn Espinoza (ND) 159-2 (48.52m)