April 14, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Despite having athletes competing over 2,000 miles apart in California and Michigan, the Notre Dame men’s and women’s track & field teams continued to strengthen their positions for postseason competition, combining to register seven new or improved NCAA Mideast Regional qualifications and 18 BIG EAST Conference Championship minimums during three different meets this weekend. Several Irish competitors also broke new ground in the Notre Dame record books, with seven different athletes finding their way onto the school’s all-time Top 10 lists in their respective events.
Perhaps the signature moment of the weekend for Notre Dame occurred Friday night at the Mount San Antonio College (SAC) Relays in Walnut, Calif., when senior All-American Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame Academy) covered 5,000 meters in 15:32.83, the second-fastest time in the nation this year as well as the second-quickest in school history (Huddle ran 15:32.55 at Mount SAC in 2004). The three-time NCAA Mideast Regional 5K champion now owns eight of the top 10 outdoor 5,000-meter times in school history, including each of the top six (four of the top five in that rundown were attained at Mount SAC).
Huddle previously hit the Mideast Regional standard, but Friday’s mark also easily met the “A” qualifying minimum (15:50) for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, to be held June 21-24 at IU Michael A. Carroll Stadium in Indianapolis. The Irish veteran is no stranger to USATF competition, winning the 2003 U.S. Junior National Championship at 3,000 meters, and finishing seventh in the 5,000 meters (tops among collegians/non-professionals) at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. Huddle now has qualified for the USATF Outdoor Championships at 5,000 meters in each of the past two years — she was the top collegiate finisher (ninth overall) in 2006 with a time of 15:44.66.
Meanwhile, freshman Balazs Molnar (Dunaujvaros, Hungary/Szechenyi Istvan) blistered the track at Friday’s Azusa Pacific Invitational, finishing second in the 400-meter hurdles in 51.87 seconds, the second-fastest time in school history and quickest in almost 50 years (Aubrey Lewis ran a converted time of 50.20 in the 440-yard hurdles in 1957). Like Huddle, Molnar already had qualified for the NCAA Mideast Regional, with Friday’s time unofficially the third-fastest in the region this year.
Junior hammer thrower Kyle Annen (Orofino, Idaho/Orofino) improved his regional standing as well, placing seventh at Mount SAC on Saturday night with a season-best throw of 189 feet, seven inches (57.79 meters). That also was good for the eighth-longest hammer throw in school history — Annen holds the Notre Dame record with a heave of 201-8 (61.46m) at last year’s BIG EAST Championships.
Four other Irish athletes locked up new Mideast Regional berths this weekend, led by senior sprinters Maryann Erigha (Stone Mountain, Ga./Chamblee) and Okechi Ogbuokiri (Willingboro, N.J./Willingboro). Erigha, who already is a regional qualifier in the 200 meters, took third in the 100-meter dash (11.68 seconds) at Azusa Pacific on Friday, booking Mideast Regional spots in both the 100 and 200 for the third consecutive year. At the same meet, Ogbuokiri led a 1-2-3 Notre Dame finish in the 400-meter dash with a season-best time of 54.25 seconds, likewise earning her third regional trip in as many years.
On the infield, a pair of Irish sophomores claimed their tickets to the Mideast Regional this weekend. High jumper Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) matched his career-best clearance by going 6-10.75 (2.10m) and finishing third at Mount SAC on Saturday afternoon. Two time zones away, pole vaulter Mary Saxer (Lancaster, N.Y./Central) successfully navigated the elements at the Michigan State Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, Mich., winning the title with a season-best height of 12-5.5 (3.80m), also matching the No. 6 mark in school history. The Irish now have a total of 18 Mideast Regional qualifiers — nine women (including both sprint relays) and nine men (including the 4×400-meter relay).
In addition to the previously-named Notre Dame athletes, three others etched their names in the Irish record books. Sophomore Anna Weber (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) notched the seventh-best shot put mark in school history, winning Saturday’s Spartan Invitational crown with a personal-best throw of 45-11.75 (14.01m), and becoming just the third different Notre Dame female ever to break 14 meters in the event. Junior Domenique Manning (Riverside, Calif./John W. North) had a memorable homecoming Friday afternoon at the nearby Azusa Pacific meet, covering the 100-meter hurdles in a personal-best 13.93 seconds, the No. 10 mark in school history and a mere 0.01 seconds (one-hundredth) shy of the Mideast Regional qualification standard. And, senior Brianne Schmidt (Miles City, Mont./Custer County District) clocked a time of 2:10.78 in Friday’s 800-meter run at Mount SAC, putting up the 10th-fastest time in Irish annals.
While some Irish athletes will be appearing at Mount SAC on Sunday, the majority of the Notre Dame track & field teams will return to competition Friday and Saturday, April 20-21 at three more meets. A collection of Irish distance runners will travel to the Oregon Invitational in Eugene, Ore., while other Notre Dame athletes will take part in the Central Collegiate Championships (Ypsilanti, Mich.) or the Dave Rankin Invitational (West Lafayette, Ind.).
— ND —