June 4, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame men’s and women’s track & field teams are completing their preparations for the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which get underway Wednesday at the A.G. Spanos Sports Complex in Sacramento, Calif. The Irish will send four men and two women to this year’s NCAA outdoor meet, with the men’s contingent being its largest since 2000 and the women’s squad comprised of a veteran looking to close her remarkable career in grand fashion and an up-and-coming thrower who already has etched her name in the school’s record books.
In-depth coverage of this year’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships will be provided by the host school, Sacramento State, at its official NCAA Championships web site. The meet also will be partially televised, as CSTV goes live from the California state capital Friday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. PT (8:30-11:30 p.m. ET in South Bend), and CBS airs Saturday’s final day of competition from 10 a.m.-noon PT (1-3 p.m. ET).
Fifth-year senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) likely will be the lead story for Notre Dame this weekend, as she aims to cap off her record-setting tenure with a national championship in the 5,000-meter run. A four-time Mideast Regional champion in the event and a nine-time combined All-American in track and cross country, Huddle has finished in the top four of the 5,000-meter final at the NCAA Outdoor Championships during each of her first three seasons, including a runner-up placement last year. She also is the reigning two-time BIG EAST Conference Most Outstanding Outdoor Track Performer after winning both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs at each of the past two BIG EAST outdoor meets (the first athlete of either gender in conference history to pull off that feat). Huddle comes into this weekend’s NCAA meet with the second-fastest time in the nation (personal-best 15:32.83) and will look to challenge NCAA leader Sally Kipyego of Texas Tech (15:19.72) for top honors. The women’s 5,000-meter semifinals will be run Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. PT (Huddle has been placed in the first of two heats), with the finals set to take place Friday at 8:10 p.m. PT.
The only other Irish runner with NCAA Outdoor Championships experience is senior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.), who has qualified in the 1,500 meters after a third-place finish at the NCAA Mideast Regional in 3:44.98 (his season-best time of 3:43.74 came at the Georgia Tech Invitational last month. Benninger previously ran in the NCAA 1,500-meter race as a freshman in 2003 (finishing 25th) and qualified in the 5,000 meters last year, but did not advance to the final after a 17th-place showing in the preliminaries. This year, Benninger will run in the 1,500-meter heats Thursday at 6:05 p.m. PT (he’s in the second preliminary race), with the men’s finals scheduled for Saturday at 11:10 a.m. PT.
Senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) will make his first-ever trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which gets going Wednesday with semifinal races at 8 p.m. PT. Ptacek’s personal-best time of 8:47.87 at the NCAA Mideast Regional earned him an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships, where he will race in the first of the two semifinal heats. The men’s steeplechase final is set to go off Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT.
Sophomores Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) and Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) also will get their first taste of NCAA Outdoor Championships action this weekend. Smyth automatically qualified in the 5,000 meters with a fourth-place regional finish, while his personal-best time of 13:48.53 stands sixth in the NCAA field. The men’s 5,000-meter semifinal (with Smyth in heat No. 2) is penciled for Wednesday at 8:50 p.m. PT, with the final Friday at 7:45 p.m. PT. Meanwhile, Majcina is the first Irish men’s high jumper in 39 years (Ed Broderick – 1968) to qualify for the NCAA outdoor meet, doing so with a personal-best leap of 6 feet, 11 inches (2.11 meters) at regionals. The men’s high jump qualifying rounds will be held Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. PT, and the finals are slated for Friday at 3 p.m. PT.
Notre Dame head coach Joe Piane was named the USTFCCCA Great Lakes District Women’s Track & Field Coach of the Year on Monday. (photo by Matt Cashore)
Perhaps the feel-good story of the weekend for Notre Dame comes from freshman discus thrower Jaclyn Espinoza (Keizer, Ore./Regis), who finished fifth at the Mideast Regional with a personal-best toss of 165 feet, 7 inches (50.48 meters) to earn her automatic berth to the NCAA meet. The lone freshman in this year’s field, Espinoza is the first Irish female thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and the first Notre Dame thrower of either gender to do so since 1945, when Joe Kelly did so in the discus and shot put, finishing third in the latter event. Espinoza’s NCAA qualifying session in the discus will be Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. PT, with the finals scheduled for Friday at 3:15 p.m. PT.
Notre Dame is sending four men to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the seventh time in program history, and first since 2000 when the Irish had a five-man contingent and tied for 47th place. The Irish had a school-record six competitors at the 1944 nationals, when they finished second behind Illinois. Notre Dame also fielded five athletes in 1921 (second place behind Illinois) and 1945 (fifth place), as well as four-man groups in 1938 (tie-fifth place) and 1995 (did not score).
Jake Watson set a new school record in the outdoor mile this past Saturday, going 3:59.4 at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville, Tenn. Watson and his brother, Luke, are the first siblings in school history to run sub-4-minute miles during their careers under the Golden Dome. (photo by Mike Bennett)
Earlier on Monday, Notre Dame head coach Joe Piane was selected as the 2007 NCAA Division I Great Lakes District Women’s Track & Field Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Piane was honored for helping pilot the Irish women to their first-ever BIG EAST outdoor title last month, with the 32-year skipper and his veteran crew of assistants — distance coach Tim Connelly, sprints/hurdles coach John Millar, jumps coach Scott Winsor and throws coach B.J. Linnenbrink — named the BIG EAST Women’s Outdoor Coaching Staff of the Year.
In other Irish track & field news, junior Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area) finished third in the mile run with a school-record time of 3:59.4 at the Music City Distance Carnival this past Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn. Watson’s time, which was achieved on a track that was water-logged by an afternoon thunderstorm, meets the “B” qualification standard for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships (slated for June 21-24 in Indianapolis). Watson also broke the Notre Dame record of 4:00.68, previously set by his brother, Luke, at the 2002 Minnesota Distance Classic in Minneapolis. Luke Watson currently holds the Irish record for the indoor mile (3:57.83 at the 2002 Meyo Invitational), and while the Watsons are the first siblings in Notre Dame history ever to run sub-4-minute miles (either indoors or outdoors), research is still pending to determine how many other siblings nationally and/or globally have ever managed the rare feat. A post-race interview from Nashville with Jake Watson conducted by Flocast is available on-line through the Flocast web site.
The USTFCCCA also recently announced the complete list of 2007 all-region honorees, with Notre Dame placing nine athletes on the All-Mideast Region Team. On the men’s side, Benninger (1,500), Ptacek (3,000 steeplechase), Smyth (5,000) and Majcina (high jump) were joined by Jake Watson (1,500), senior Thomas Chamney (Tipperary, Ireland/St. Columba’s) (800) and freshman Balazs Molnar (Dunaujvaros, Hungary/Szchenyi Istvan) (400 hurdles). Meanwhile, Huddle (5,000) and Espinoza (discus) were the two Irish women to make this year’s All-Mideast Region squad. Athletes are eligible for all-region honors if they finish among the top eight in their event at the NCAA Mideast Regional (the 10,000 meters and multi-events are not contested at regionals).
— ND —