TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The nationally-ranked Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams capped off an outstanding 2005 season with matching top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, which were contested Monday afternoon in Terre Haute, Ind., on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center. The fifth-ranked Irish men earned their best finish at the NCAA meet since 1990, placing third in the 10,000-meter final, while the No. 4 Notre Dame women picked up their fourth top-10 finish in as many years, winding up seventh in their 6,000-meter race.
Notre Dame was one of only three schools to have both their men’s and women’s teams end up in the top seven of their respective NCAA finals, joining Colorado (fifth – men, second – women) and Stanford (sixth – men/first – women). It also marks the first time ever that both Irish squads placed in the top 10 at the same NCAA Championship meet.
(NOTE: Highlights of the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships will be televised on most Fox Sports Net affiliates nationwide on Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. (local time). Check local listings for availability.)
For the Notre Dame men’s cross country program, Monday’s third-place finish is its eighth top-three placement all-time, and it equals the best NCAA showing for the Irish in the 31-year career of legendary head coach Joe Piane. Along with other third-place finishes in 1963 and 1990, one has to go back to Notre Dame’s national championship season of 1957 to find a better performance by an Irish men’s cross country team. In addition, Notre Dame scored 178 points in this year’s meet, its lowest point total in the Piane era and best since 1964, when the Irish tallied 122 points en route to a fourth-place finish.
“I’m so thrilled for our guys,” Piane said. “None of us were pleased with last year’s result (11th place) and the preparation for (Monday’s) race started the minute we left the course last year. We started to see this development during the last indoor track season and then it really took off after the way we ran in last spring’s outdoor meet at Stanford. At that point, we knew we could have a pretty good cross country team this season, and (Monday’s) finish is the result of an awful lot of hard work on the part of our guys.”
Notre Dame was paced by three runners who finished among the top 50 in the field and achieved All-America status, tying a school record for All-American citations in one NCAA Championship meet (also in 2001). Junior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) registered his fifth top-10 finish in as many races this year and earned his first cross country All-America certificate (third overall, counting two track honors) by finishing eighth at Monday’s NCAA race, crossing the line in 29:50.2 to become only the third Irish runner to break the 30-minute barrier since the event expanded to 10,000 meters more than two decades ago. Luke Watson holds the record (29:19 in a fifth-place finish in 2001), while Dan Garrett cracked 30 minutes twice in 1987 and 1988.
Senior Tim Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi) landed his second cross country All-America citation in as many years, finishing 31st in 30:15 for his best performance in four trips to the NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, senior Kaleb Van Ort (Waterloo, Ind./DeKalb) wrapped up an impressive comeback from an early-season injury with his first All-America honor, placing 41st at the NCAA Championships in 30:22.
Fifth-year senior Sean O’Donnell (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst) started strong in his final collegiate race, but faded a bit over the final 2,000 meters, ending up in 57th place with a time of 30:34.8. However, while O’Donnell was starting to slip back in the pack, freshman Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) was making a charge in his first NCAA meet, surging past no less than 15 runners during the final 1,000 meters and winding up in 99th place in 30:57.9.
“Every guy on our squad played a huge part in this finish,” Piane said. “Kurt ran a very smart, well-conceived race, and both Tim and Kaleb did an outstanding job of maintaining position at times and then knowing just when to push the pace a bit. Sean went out well and did all he could to keep us in contention. But, you really have to take your hat off to Patrick. The way he stayed patient and waited for just the right moment to strike — that takes incredible maturity, wisdom and fortitude, even if you’re a senior. For a freshman like Patrick to do that in his first NCAA race, it’s such an impressive effort.”
Top-ranked Wisconsin wound up literally running away with the national title, placing six runners in the top 15 and scoring 37 points. Arkansas was second with 105 points, with fourth-place Iona (205) and defending NCAA champion Colorado (222) rounding out the top five.
On the women’s side, Notre Dame had three runners end up in the top 35 overall, but narrowly missed out on returning to the awards podium for the third time in four seasons. Nevertheless, the Irish did have at least two athletes earn All-America honors for the fourth year in a row, continuing to build the tradition of excellence in women’s distance running at Notre Dame under the guidance of veteran head coach Tim Connelly.
Senior Stephanie Madia (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) carved her spot in the Irish record books, matching the best individual NCAA finish in program history by coming in third overall in a time of 19:48.4, the fastest time ever by a Notre Dame runner in a 6,000-meter NCAA Championships race. JoAnna Deeter also finished third in 1996, while current senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) held the previous 6,000-meter record time of 19:55.7
Madia’s third-place finish also merited her second cross country All-America certificate in as many years, and her third All-America citation in the past year — she also picked up the honor in the 5,000-meter run at last spring’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In the final five cross country races of her career (all this season), Madia finished sixth or better each time, including four top-three placements and the Notre Dame Invitational title.
Also adding to her place in Notre Dame athletics history was Huddle, whose 15th-place finish (20:13) at this year’s NCAA Championships resulted in her third cross country All-America honor in four years, tying Lauren King’s school record in that category. It’s also the eighth career All-America citation for Huddle, who has five citations on the track and is the most decorated female athlete (in terms of All-America honors) in school history.
Sophomore Sunni Olding (Minster, Ohio/Minster) was the third Irish runner to cross the line at Monday’s NCAA meet, coming in 34th place with a time of 20:29.6. Although not automatically credited with All-America status as a top-25 finisher, Olding could still earn that distinction depending on the number of international athletes who placed ahead of her in the NCAA Championships. Olding was an All-America selection as a rookie last year after finishing 32nd at the national meet.
Freshman Ramsey Kavan (Yankton, S.D./Yankton) was next for Notre Dame, placing 78th overall in 20:56.6. Despite her finishing spot, it was Kavan’s second-fastest 6,000-meter time of the season and the only time in five races this year that she did not end up in the top 15. Senior Elizabeth Webster (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child) completed the Irish scoring in 191st place with a time of 21:57.9, a full half-minute faster than her previous season-best 6,000-meter time.
Stanford pulled off a mild upset to win the NCAA title with 146 points, ousting the defending national champion Colorado (181) and top-ranked Duke (185). Arizona State (191), Illinois (212) and Michigan (250) preceded Notre Dame in this year’s NCAA Championships standings.
The 2005 NCAA meet completed one of the more impressive campaigns in Notre Dame cross country history. Both Irish squads won the BIG EAST Conference title, the first time any school has pulled off that feat since 1996, and both Notre Dame teams finished second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. In addition, each group was ranked among the top five in the nation for much of this season and Notre Dame was the only school to enter Monday’s NCAA Championships with both teams ranked fifth or better in the nation.
— ND —
Nov. 21, 2005
Terre Haute, Ind. â€¢ LaVern Gibson Championship Course
MEN’S 10,000-METER FINAL
Teams (top 10 of 31): 1. Wisconsin 37; 2. Arkansas 105; 3. NOTRE DAME 178; 4. Iona 205; 5. Colorado 222; 6. Stanford 231; 7. Texas 272; 8. Oklahoma State 355; 9. Portland 372; 10. Arizona 384.
Individuals (top five plus Notre Dame finishers): 1. Simon Bairu* (Wisconsin) 29:15.9; 2. Richard Kiplagat* (Iona) 29:21.9; 3. Chris Solinsky* (Wisconsin) 29:27.8; 4. Josh McDougal* (Liberty) 29:32.6; 5. Westly Keating* (UT-Pan American) 29:38.1; 8. Kurt Benninger * (Notre Dame) 29:50.2; 31. Tim Moore * (Notre Dame) 30:15.0; 41. Kaleb Van Ort * (Notre Dame) 30:22.0; 57. Sean O’Donnell (Notre Dame) 30:34.8; 99. Patrick Smyth (Notre Dame) 30:57.9; 180. Todd Ptacek (Notre Dame) 31:43.2; 215. Vinny Ambrico (Notre Dame) 32:05.6.
WOMEN’S 6,000-METER FINAL
Teams (top 10 of 31): 1. Stanford 146; 2. Colorado 181; 3. Duke 185; 4. Arizona State 191; 5. Illinois 212; 6. Michigan 250; 7. NOTRE DAME 252; 8. Brigham Young 288; 9. Minnesota 361; 10. Oklahoma State 377.
Individuals (top five plus Notre Dame finishers): 1. Johanna Nilsson (Northern Arizona) 19:33.9; 2. Caroline Bierbaum (Columbia) 19:46.0; 3. Stephanie Madia * (Notre Dame) 19:48.4; 4. Victoria Mitchell (Butler) 19:50.4; 5. Clara Horowitz (Duke) 19:50.7; 15. Molly Huddle * (Notre Dame) 20:13.0; 34. Sunni Olding (Notre Dame) 20:29.6; 78. Ramsey Kavan (Notre Dame) 20:56.6; 191. Elizabeth Webster (Notre Dame) 21:57.9; 206. Jean Marinangeli (Notre Dame) 22:09.7; 240. Katie DeRusso (Notre Dame) 23:06.8.
* = indicates runner earned All-America status