Senior Rachel Velarde.

Irish Host 56th Annual Notre Dame Invitational Friday

Sept. 29, 2011

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Coming off a pair of victories at the National Catholic Championships, the Notre Dame cross country teams play host to the 56th annual Notre Dame Invitational this Friday at the Notre Dame Cross Country Course.

The meet, which welcomes 21 ranked foes, features five races and gets underway at 2 p.m. with the women’s 5K gold division race. Among the participants in the 20-team race are Grand Valley State, who is No. 4 in Div. II, and Calvin College, who is ranked No. 9 in Div. III.

At 2:45 p.m. the men’s five-mile gold division race begins with five ranked teams highlighting the 21-team field. No. 3 Grand Valley State (Div. II) will battle against four ranked Div. III teams in No. 1 North Central College, No. 4 Calvin College, No. 15 Wisconsin-Oshkosh and No. 17 Wabash. The Irish will also feature a team in this race, as some of the underclassmen get their first crack at a major meet.

The JV race begins at 3:30 p.m. and is an open meet for racers from any team. The men and women will begin at the same time with the men running five miles and the women running a 5K.

The blue division races, which are the highlight of the meet, get underway at 4:15 p.m. with the women’s 5K race. Six ranked Div. I foes will do battle with Notre Dame and 20 other teams in the 28-team field. Among the ranked teams are No. 2 New Mexico, No. 7 Florida State, No. 18 Arkansas, No. 22 Princeton, No. 28 Penn State and No. 29 BYU.

“Our team is definitely taking a step up in level of competition this week,” said women’s head coach Tim Connelly. “It is a great opportunity to see how our team stacks up against top competition.”

The men’s five-mile race begins at 5 p.m. and showcases eight ranked squads, including No. 23 Notre Dame, in the 26-team race. Also ranked are No. 3 Stanford, No. 10 Florida State, No. 12 Princeton, No. 14 BYU, No. 21 New Mexico, No. 25 Ohio State and No. 26 Eastern Kentucky.

“The meet is a great opportunity to receive at-large points as we head towards the NCAA National Championships,” said men’s head coach Joe Piane. “There are a lot of great meets this weekend, but this meet might arguably be the best in the country as far as quality of competition.”

The Notre Dame Invitational began in 1956, with the Irish men claiming the first two team and individual crowns. Since then Notre Dame has won 14 team titles and seven individual titles. The last team title for the Irish was in 2007, and the last individual title came from Luke Watson in 2001.

The women’s race was added in 1987, with Virginia winning the first title. Since then, the Irish have won six team and individual titles. Notre Dame last won the team title in 2003, with Stephanie Madia winning the last individual crown in 2005.

Last year, the men finished seventh out of 21 teams, with the since-graduated Dan Jackson finishing 15th. The Irish women placed 18th out of 24 teams, with freshman Meg Ryan leading the way at 57th.

Notre Dame is coming off a pair of victories at the 32nd annual National Catholic Championships. Junior Jessica Rydberg paced the women’s field, winning the 5K race in 17:16. The win earned the Pinetop, Ariz., native BIG EAST Cross Country Athlete of the Week honors. Sophomore Martin Grady placed second in the men’s five-mile race in 24:35.

For complete results of the 56th annual Notre Dame Invitational, be sure to check out following the conclusion of the races.