Nov. 17, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The top five-ranked Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams find themselves in a familiar position as they head to Terre Haute, Ind., on Monday afternoon for the 2005 NCAA Championships, to be contested on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center. The men’s 10,000-meter final will be run at noon (ET), followed by the women’s 6,000-meter race at 1:15 p.m. (ET), with Notre Dame being the only school in the competition to have both its men’s and women’s teams ranked among the top five in the nation.
The No. 4 Irish women are making their fifth consecutive trip to the national meet, having placed in the top 10 each of the past three years, including “podium” (top-four) finishes in 2002 (third) and 2004 (fourth). Meanwhile, the fifth-ranked Notre Dame men are making their 42nd NCAA Championships appearance, having earned 32 top-10 finishes since 1938, with 11 “podium” placements and the 1957 NCAA title. This year, the Irish men will look for a bit of redemption, after seeing their successful 2004 season end with a disappointing 11th-place finish at the NCAA meet.
In the run up to this year’s NCAA Championships, both Notre Dame squads have put together nearly identical strong performances in quality meets. Both teams finished second at the Pre-National Meet on Oct. 15, an event held on the same LaVern Gibson circuit that will host Monday’s NCAA races. Two weeks later, they registered matching BIG EAST Conference titles, becoming the first school since 1996 to sweep both league crowns. Then, at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 12, both Notre Dame teams placed second to earn automatic berths in the NCAA Championships.
“We have used our performance in last year’s NCAAs as a motivator this season,” 31st-year Irish men’s cross country head coach Joe Piane said. “None of us were pleased with that result and our guys have taken it upon themselves this year to show what this team and this program is all about. We’ve had another good run to this point, but the proof will really be in how we do on Monday in Terre Haute.”
“Our runners expect a great deal of themselves every day and they are confident in each other and in their ability to be a successful team,” 18th-year Notre Dame women’s cross country head coach Tim Connelly said. “We have put ourselves in a position to run well at the NCAAs, and now we just have to go out and do all we can to put forth our best effort on Monday. If we do that, I believe we’ll be right there in contention at the end.”
Connelly has reason to be optimistic about his team’s chances, as Notre Dame’s top four runners are arguably the nation’s finest group of harriers, with three returning All-Americans and a former two-time high school All-American in the fold. Between them, the Irish version of the “Fearsome Foursome” has all finished among the top 11 at three of the four races they have run together this season, including a quartet of top-10 placements at the Great Lakes Regional.
Senior Stephanie Madia (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) blossomed into a elite runner last year with six top-25 finishes, including a 23rd-place showing at the NCAA Championships that resulted in her first career All-America citation. She has backed up that effort with perhaps an even better performance in 2005, reeling off four consecutive top-six finishes in as many races, including the individual title at the 5K Notre Dame Invitational (16:36) and a runner-up placement at the Great Lakes Regional, completing the 6,000-meter circuit in 21:00.8.
Fellow senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) also will run in her final race on Monday, capping off a brilliant cross country career that has seen her twice earn All-America honors (2002, 2003) and post 15 top-10 finishes in 18 all-time races. After an injury limited her effectiveness late last season (she was 40th at the 2004 NCAA meet), Huddle came back in strong fashion this year, rolling up three top-three finishes in four races, including runner-up showings at the Notre Dame Invitational (16:39) and BIG EAST Championships (20:52), and a third-place finish at the Great Lakes Regional (21:04.5) — her third top-three regional performance in her four-year college career.
Sophomore Sunni Olding (Minster, Ohio/Minster) turned in a superb rookie season in 2004, ending up in the top 35 in all six of her races, capped off by a 32nd-place finish and All-America recognition at the NCAA Championships. Olding has been even sharper in her second year with the Irish, racking up four top-10 finishes in five races, highlighted by the individual title at the 5K National Catholic Championships (17:42), a fifth-place performance at the BIG EAST Championships (21:04) and a seventh-place result at the Great Lakes Regional (21:18.6).
While three of her teammates already held All-America plaques and were veterans of NCAA Championship competition, freshman Ramsey Kavan (Yankton, S.D./Yankton) set out to show she has the credentials to be a force for years to come. A former two-time prep All-American and South Dakota Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year, Kavan has run in only four races in her brief college career, but in that time, she has placed 15th or better in each event, including an eighth-place finish at the BIG EAST Championships (21:26) and a 10th-place standing at the Great Lakes Regional (21:29.1).
If the Irish are to have a chance at the NCAA hardware this season, it will rest on the shoulders of their fifth scoring runner. Three veterans will look to fill that role at Monday’s NCAA Championships, led by seniors Jean Marinangeli (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) and Elizabeth Webster (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child). Marinangeli has run in five races this year, posting top-20 finishes at the National Catholic Championships (14th) and BIG EAST Championships (18th). Webster’s best finish was a sixth-place outing at the National Catholic meet, although she was Notre Dame’s fifth runner at the Great Lakes Regional, coming home in 46th position. Junior Katie DeRusso (Fairport, N.Y./Fairport) also may be heard from, as she looks to build upon the season-best 16th-place finish she recorded at the BIG EAST Championships, pacing the Irish to the team title. Both Marinangeli and DeRusso also have NCAA Championships experience, having run in last year’s national meet.
As for the Notre Dame men, they will be led by junior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.), who has emerged as a legitimate national title contender following four top-five finishes in as many races this year, and runner-up placements in each of his last two events (BIG EAST Championships and Great Lakes Regional). Benninger also appeared in last season’s NCAA Championships, coming in 42nd overall.
Meanwhile, a trio of seniors — fifth-year Sean O’Donnell (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst), All-American Tim Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi) and Kaleb Van Ort (Waterloo, Ind./DeKalb) stand ready to provide ample support for the Irish. The threesome finished grouped together, separated by only two-tenths of a second, at the Great Lakes Regional, with O’Donnell (11th) leading Moore (12th) and Van Ort (13th) across the line. In 11 races between them this season, they have placed in the top 20 on 10 occasions, topped by their performance at the BIG EAST Championships, when they wound up fifth (Moore), seventh (O’Donnell) and eighth (Van Ort) to spark Notre Dame to the team crown. Moore has run in each of the past three NCAA Championships, with his 43rd-place finish last season leading to his first All-America citation. O’Donnell and Van Ort also have NCAA meet experience, having run with Moore and Benninger last season.
Like the Irish women, a freshman has provided an added boost for the Notre Dame men’s squad this season. Rookie Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) debuted by winning the individual title at the 8K National Catholic Championships (24:36) and hasn’t looked back, adding on a ninth-place outing at the BIG EAST Championships and a 20th-place performance at the Great Lakes Regional.
The Irish also will send senior Vinny Ambrico (Altamonte Springs, Fla./Choate Rosemary Hall Academy) and junior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) to Monday’s NCAA Championships. Ambrico, who will make his second trip to the national meet, last ran in the BIG EAST Championships on Oct. 28, finishing 19th overall. Ptacek will be running at the NCAA Championships for the first time — his best performance of the season to date also came in the conference meet, where he placed 26th.
A handful of runners from the Irish men’s team will travel to Bronx, N.Y., on Saturday for the IC4A Championships, to be held at 10:30 a.m. (ET) at Van Cortlandt Park, which also hosted the BIG EAST Championships last month. Those runners competing for Notre Dame are: sophomore Brett Adams (Davenport, Iowa/Assumption), senior A.J. Andrassy (Bay Village, Ohio/St. Ignatius), sophomore Daniel Bradley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s), sophomore James Millar (Granger, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s), freshman Mark Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi), sophomore Mike Popejoy (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton-Warrenville South) and sophomore Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area). Piane has stated that Notre Dame’s top finisher at the IC4A meet will be rewarded with the final spot on the travel squad for the NCAA Championships two days later.
Complete results from the 2005 NCAA 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 —