by Cory Walton
The gun has sounded starting the 2003 Notre Dame women’s cross country season. After recording their highest finish ever at the NCAA Championships (third) last year and coming into the ’03 season ranked third in the nation, the Irish women are fast becoming one of the country’s top teams.
Once again, at the head of the pack will be Elmira, N.Y., native Molly Huddle.
A sophomore, Huddle paced the Irish harriers with a sixth-place individual finish at the 2002 NCAA Cross Country Championships, earning All-America honors. Huddle’s showing was the highest for an Irish runner at the NCAA meet since former All-American JoAnna Deeter placed third in 1996. That result came on the heels of Huddle’s first-place finish at the 2002 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship and a second-place showing at the 2002 BIG EAST race proving to Huddle that she was a star on the rise.
Her immediate success was a fitting follow-up to an illustrious high school career that saw her become one of the nation’s top runners in her age group. She was twice named an All-American in outdoor track and field, and earned that same distinction as a senior in both cross country and indoor track and field at Notre Dame High School.
The start of Huddle’s progression into one of the nation’s top young runners dates back to seventh grade, when she got her start in competitive track and field.
“My dad was a runner, and he really got me started in track,” she said.
“He didn’t push me into it or anything, but I saw him doing it and I thought I would try track.”
Huddle also played basketball and soccer at Notre Dame, but ultimately decided to give those sports up to pursue her running career.
“Running just felt more natural. Plus, I had more success on the track,” Huddle says.
Huddle’s senior year turned out to be a dominating affair as she placed first in the mile run at the Nike Indoor Classic, setting a meet record for the event, and the two-mile run at the adidas Outdoor Championships. Along the way, Huddle also managed to set a national high school record in the two-mile run, which was the proudest moment of her high school career.
“That was pretty shocking. It just sounds so substantial, an American record for high schoolers,” Huddle says.
Huddle also put together a stellar cross country career during her time in high school despite the fact that she was only able to compete for one season and her high school did not sponsor the sport. Like many of the races in which she competes, Huddle took the lead and competed as a one-runner team during her senior year. She was coached by her father, Robert Huddle, a ’69 graduate of Notre Dame.
“There were some weird rules, like not enough interest or something, that wouldn’t allow them (Notre Dame H.S.) to formulate an actual team,” Huddle explained.
“My dad took on the coaching and paid for the meets, and I ran by myself. It was nice because I could go to the major meets and plan my own schedule.”
As her list of accolades boasts, Huddle made her year of cross country a memorable one. Besides earning All-America honors, she was undefeated en route to the conference, regional and state championships – not to mention a fourth-place finish at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship.
After such an accomplished high school career, Huddle was a much-sought-after recruit heading into college. For her, however, the decision of which university to attend was a relatively easy one.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Notre Dame,” she said.
“It’s been a family tradition. My dad and uncle went here, and they’ve always talked so much about it. It’s also academically outstanding.”
Now, Huddle is leading the Irish harriers to be athletically outstanding as she and junior Lauren King, who won the 2002 BIG EAST Championship, provide head coach Tim Connelly with two of the top runners in the nation.
“Those two are really talented and they’re also great competitors,” Connelly says. “They lead by example and give our cross country team a strong reputation across the nation. Molly is very driven and focused in what she needs to accomplish and is starting to compile a stellar career.”
Huddle began her college cross country endeavors running in the highly-competitive Notre Dame Invitational. She finished fourth while leading the Irish to a third-place team finish. The Pre-National meet was next, allowing Huddle a chance to get a look at the future national championship course. She took seventh in one of the two premier races on the course, setting the stage for her future accomplishments at the conference, regional and NCAA Championship as the Irish won their first BIG EAST team title in school history.
Huddle’s success does not end on the cross country course however as she also had an immediate impact on the Irish indoor and outdoor track and field teams. During indoor season, Huddle also earned All-America honors in the 3,000 meters at the 2003 NCAA Championships and combined with three teammates to win the distance medley relay competition at the 2003 BIG EAST Indoor Championship in Syracuse, N.Y.
During the outdoor season, Huddle raised her game even higher as she won the BIG EAST title in the 5,000 meters, ran away with the NCAA Mideast Regional title and earned her third All-America citation of the season at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships after placing fourth in the 5,000 meters.
Huddle’s final jewel in a star-studded first season saw her dominate the field once again at the United States Track and Field Junior Championships in winning the 3,000 meters. Huddle’s 3,000-meter victory at the USATF Junior Championship came in 9:19.25, a U.S. Junior Record effort which put her 25 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor in the race.
The Irish started the 2003 season with a first-place effort at the Valparaiso Invitational in Valparaiso, Ind., but Huddle made her initial run of ’03 at the National Catholic Invitational held on campus yesterday. Next up for the Irish is the Central Collegiate Championships in Three Rivers, Mich., on Sept. 29, followed by the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 3 at the Burke Golf Course. The Irish then travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for a sneak peak at the NCAA National Cross Country Championship course at the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 18, followed by the BIG EAST Championships on Oct. 31 in Van Cortland Park, N.Y. The Irish then compete at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet Nov. 15 in Terre Haute, Ind., before vying for the national title on Nov. 24 at the NCAA meet.