Oct. 8, 2004
By Joe Meginnes
As he enters his 17th year of coaching women’s cross country at the University of Notre Dame, Tim Connelly knows he has a team loaded with talent that is capable of running with the best programs in the nation.
“Considering the types of kids that we have, our expectations are pretty high,” Connelly says.
“Once you’ve accomplished a great deal and won a trophy at nationals it’s hard to settle for something less.”
“This team has the potential to do great things if everything falls right and we can put all the pieces together.”
The veteran coach is well aware of the challenges and surprises a cross country season can bring and is unlikely to take any of his team’s success for granted. This is the type of perspective one gains after taking over a program in its infancy, as Connelly arrived to coach at Notre Dame one year after the women’s cross country program got it’s start.
“When I first got here we had no scholarships, no women’s track team and there wasn’t a strong commitment to the program. At the time I was hopeful that we would eventually add track and that we would eventually add some athletes that were Division I-caliber athletes.”
After obtaining full-funding in the mid-1990’s, Connelly has not only built up the program and attracted more Division I athletes but has also lured some of the nation’s top talent to South Bend. The current team boasts several athletes that were high school stars and possess resumés that include success at prestigious high school meets such as the Footlocker National Championships and World Junior Cross Country Championships.
Connelly feels that his recruiting success is largely a product of good athletes simply wanting to run with other good athletes.
“Kids come to Notre Dame because they want to get a Notre Dame education and be around athletes that will help them get better. Success breeds success, and that’s why we are able to bring in a higher level of athlete.”
Connelly saw his team’s talent achieve incredible success in 2002, winning the third-place trophy at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Last year the team won the BIG EAST Championship as well as its NCAA Regional and was poised to receive more hardware at the NCAA Championships. However, an unexpected off day at the national meet sent the Irish home empty-handed and anxious to atone for that performance in 2004.
“That was a really good team that just didn’t have a good day at the NCAA Championships,” Connelly says. “Most of that team is back, and we’ve probably thought about that race every day since then. Hopefully in the end the disappointment we had is going to be something that is positive this year.”
Connelly will look to aid his team’s resurgence by showing the willingness to focus on the individual athlete apart from the team as a whole. He views this as a key to his coaching and a practice that sets him apart from other coaches in his profession.
“What I’m willing to do more than some people is look at the individual and let them do what they need to do get better as individuals,” he says. I think if we get enough kids doing that then we are going to be really good when we come together as a team.”
The 2004 Notre Dame women’s cross country team should have no problem finding team unity as it features a number of talented athletes that are also capable leaders-but in their own different ways.
“We have so many kids that have run in the big races and aren’t afraid to share their experiences,” Connelly says. “Molly Huddle leads by example and let’s her teammates know every day what `good’ is. Lauren King is an All-American and probably our vocal and spiritual leader. Kerry Meagher is another All-American and Stephanie Madia was an NCAA qualifier on the track.”
Connelly sees this abundance of leadership as one of his team’s biggest advantages as it tries to earn another national trophy.
“We’re fortunate that we have a lot of kids that have leadership ability and that want to be leaders. You can’t have too many leaders if they’re all going in the same direction.”
The 2004 NCAA Championship returns to Terre Haute, the same location where the Irish captured their third-place finish in 2002. There is little doubt that Notre Dame’s team leaders, including Connelly, have their collective sights set on recapturing and perhaps surpassing the accomplishments they last achieved on that championship course.