Senior Todd Ptacek (shown here in last year's NCAA Mideast Regional) received an at-large berth into the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, it was announced Tuesday afternoon by the NCAA. <i>(photo by Elizabeth Oliver)</i>

Irish To Send Six Athletes To NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

May 29, 2007

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame men’s and women’s track & field teams will send a combined total of six athletes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, it was announced Tuesday when event declaration lists were released by the NCAA. For senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic), his third consecutive trip to regionals proved the charm, as his personal-best time of 8:47.87 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at last weekend’s NCAA Mideast Regional was good enough to earn the Irish veteran his first berth into the NCAA national meet, to be held June 6-9 at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex in Sacramento, Calif.

The top five finishers in each event at the regional level were awarded automatic qualifications to the NCAA Championships, with a handful of at-large bids were delivered to those non-qualifying athletes with the best marks during the season. Ptacek was the No. 2 at-large qualifier in the steeplechase (behind Arizona State’s Kyle Alcorn) and presently has the 18th-fastest time in the 26-man field.

Five other Notre Dame athletes collected automatic qualifications at the NCAA Mideast Regional. Fifth-year senior All-American Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame) set a regional record en route to her fourth 5,000-meter victory, holds the nation’s second-quickest time this year (a personal-best 15:32.83) and will run in that event at the NCAA meet, seeking her first national title after a runner-up finish last year. Huddle, the two-time BIG EAST Conference Most Outstanding Outdoor Track Performer, also qualified for this year NCAA Championships in the 10,000 meters, but has elected to bypass that race in order to concentrate on the 5,000 meters. In three prior NCAA 5,000-meter races, Huddle has gradually improved her standing, from fourth as a freshman in 2003, to third a year later, then second in 2006 (after sitting out the ’05 campaign due to injury). Texas Tech’s Sally Kipyego is the national leader in the event (15:19.72) and currently is declared in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races (she also has the nation’s top 10K time this year).

Freshman Jaclyn Espinoza (Keizer, Ore./Regis) finished fifth in the discus at the Mideast Regional to secure her ticket to Sacramento. The lone freshman in this year’s NCAA women’s discus field, Espinoza flung the discus a personal-best 165 feet, 7 inches (50.48 meters) at regionals to become the first Irish female thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and the first Notre Dame thrower of either gender to do so since 1945, when Joe Kelly did so in the discus and shot put, finishing third in the latter event.

On the men’s side, senior All-American Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) gets his third crack at outdoor nationals, and his second at 1,500 meters after placing third at the regional meet in a time of 3:44.98 this past weekend. Benninger also appeared in the NCAA 1,500-meter race as a freshman in 2003, finishing in 25th place.

Sophomores Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) and Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) both will be making their first career appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Smyth took fourth in the regional 5,000 meters and owns the country’s sixth-fastest time at that distance this year (13:48.53), as he aims for the program’s fifth All-America finish in the event (first since Luke Watson in 2003). Meanwhile, Majcina cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 11 inches (2.11 meters) in the high jump at the Mideast Regional, tying for fourth place and becoming the first Irish male high jumper to qualify for the NCAA outdoor meet since Ed Broderick in 1968.

Notre Dame will be sending four men to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for just the seventh time in program history, and first since 2000 when the Irish had a five-man contingent and tied for 47th place. The Irish had a school-record six competitors at the 1944 nationals, when they finished second behind Illinois. Notre Dame also fielded five athletes in 1921 (second place behind Illinois) and 1945 (fifth place), as well as four-man groups in 1938 (tie-fifth place) and 1995 (did not score).

Final start lists for the NCAA Outdoor Championships will be announced June 4 at, with the meet slated to get underway two days later. In-depth coverage will be provided by the host school, Sacramento State, at its official NCAA Championship web site, while CBS will be televise Saturday’s final day of competition from 1-3 p.m. ET (10 a.m.-1 p.m. PT in Sacramento).

— ND —