September 8, 1998
Most coaches would be satisfied with a 12th-place finish at the 1997 NCAA championships, however, Notre Dame cross country coach Joe Piane expects an even better performance from his 1998 squad.
“Most people would be thrilled with being 12th in the country, but in terms of how (the team) performed at the NCAAs, I’m disappointed.” said Piane, who has directed the Irish to five top-10 finishes in the 1990s.
The team’s main obstacle to meeting Piane’s expectations in 1998 will be finding a way to replace four of the top seven runners from last season. The Irish lost All-American Jason Rexing, Mike Conway and Scott Grace to graduation, while Anthony Alt decided not to return for his sophomore season.
“It’s going to be an exciting year for these kids, because every kid has the opportunity to be in the top seven, whereas in other years we’ve been pretty solid in the one through five or six slots,” said Piane, who is in his 24th season as head coach at Notre Dame.
Some of the athletes who Piane expects to be in the team’s top seven are Antonio Arce (Palmdale, Calif.), Ryan Maxwell (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Tim Engelhardt (East Syracuse, N.Y.), three members of the senior class.
Last season, Arce was the team’s number-two runner for most of the season, placing in the top 10 in four of the seven meets in which he competed. Arce’s year was highlighted by two second places in the beginning of the season at the Scarlet/Gray Invitational and the National Catholic meet, as well as a 10th place at the District IV championships. The three-time monogram winner also was tops on the team with a fifth place at the Notre Dame Invitational and a 19th at the prestigious Furman Invitational.
Maxwell has continued to improve throughout his Notre Dame career and capped his junior year by being second on the team to cross the finish line at the 1997 NCAA championships where he placed 50th. Engelhardt, meanwhile, sat out all of 1997 with a severe foot injury, but is expected to return at full strength this year.
“Maxwell was in our top three or four all season long, Engelhardt was our fifth man in ’97, while Arce for most of last season was our second man,” Piane said. “That’s a solid group of three.”
In addition to the seniors, Piane expects contributions from two juniors, Mike Griewe (Tampa, Fla.) and Sean McManus (Hernando, Fla.). Griewe ran in just one event a year ago, placing a team-high ninth at the Valparaiso Invitational. McManus, on the other hand, ran in five meets including the BIG EAST championships where he placed in the top 60 runners.
“Mike Griewe, who I think can really make a contribution this year, came in and was not a huge factor as a freshman, but made great strides last year,” Piane said. “He and Sean McManus should both make great contributions to the team this season.”
A talented duo of sophomores, Ryan Shay (Central Lake, Mich.) and Ted Higgins (Naperville, Ill.), should also be in the mix for the Irish. Shay opened last season with a phenomenal start, winning his first two meets at the Scarlet/Gray Invitational and National Catholic meet. He continued to perform well throughout the season, ending with a 51st place at the NCAA meet.
Shay also gained extra competition experience when he ran at the 1998 World Junior Cross Country Championships in Marrakech, Morocco, placing 20th out of the 200 runners. The 20th place finish was tops for the U.S. squad and was the highest individual finish by an American since ’92.
“Anytime you can run in that caliber of a competition you’re going to learn something,” Piane said of Shay’s experience. “So if you get into another meet event, you’re not as intimidated. It will absolutely help him.”
Higgins also ran well in the beginning of the year, picking up a seventh at the Scarlet/Gray Invitational and third at the National Catholic meet. Higgins was one of the team’s 12 members at the BIG EAST meet in New York.
Members of the Class of 2002 stand to make an immediate impact, according to Piane. Strong contenders for roles this season include Pat Conway (Springfield, Va.), Marc Striowski (Toronto, Ontario) and Luke Watson (Stillwater, Minn.).
“Like last year, we’re going to have to count on a couple of these freshmen to come through in order for us to be competitive,” Piane said.
Conway, the brother of former Irish runner Mike Conway, was state cross country champion in Virginia in 1997, despite breaking his toe one mile into the race. He was also an All-American in both indoor and outdoor track.
Striowski has run the 3,000 meters in 8:30 in the track season in Canada and is expected to be a really solid cross country runner as well, while Watson was the state cross country champion in Minnesota, going undefeated his senior season in both cross country and track.
“All three of them have the God-given talent to perform,” said Piane of the three freshmen.
On this year’s schedule for Piane’s squad will be five meets in addition to the BIG EAST, District IV and NCAA championships. One good gauge of the competition and course for the NCAAs will be at the mid-October Bob Timmons Invitational or pre-national meet in Lawrence, Kan., the site of the NCAA championships. The BIG EAST meet, which the Irish won for the first time a year ago, could also be a critical interregional race.
“Winning the BIG EAST last year was a real thrill for us, and we did what we needed to do to advance to the Nationals,” Piane said.
The NCAAs, however, will be the real gauge of success for the 1998 season.
“Last season was successful but disappointing that we didn’t perform better at the national championships,” Piane said. “We just need to perform better as a team this season at the championships.”