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Men's Squad Hopes Return To NCAA Championships

Sept. 21, 1999

Returning five of its top seven runners, the 1999 Notre Dame men’s cross country team is looking to make a return trip to the NCAA championships.

Last season, the Irish fell one place short of receiving one of the 13 at-large bids to the NCAAs, breaking a seven-year streak of consecutive NCAA appearances.

“It didn’t finish the way we had hoped, but we had some good performances all year long from some of the underclassmen,” said head coach Joe Piane, who is in his 25th season.

All of those underclassmen return in 1999, including the team’s top runner, junior Ryan Shay, who qualified for the 1998 NCAA championships individually, placing 229th in the elite college field. Shay won the National Catholic meet and posted two runner-up finishes in his first three races. In the second half of the season, the Central Lake, Mich., native placed 17th at the pre-national meet, before earning all-BIG EAST honors with a sixth at the conference meet. Two weeks later at the district meet in Terre Haute, Ind., Shay finished 10th to qualify for the NCAAs.

In addition to Shay, sophomore Luke Watson, Notre Dame’s number two runner as a freshman, comes back after winning the U.S. junior cross country championship and running at the world junior cross country championship meet earlier in 1999, where he placed 34th out of 155 runners. In his first season with the Irish, the Stillwater, Minn., native placed sixth in the season-opening Wolf & Kettle Invitational and then was fourth at the National Catholic meet. At the BIG EAST race, Watson finished just behind Shay, in seventh, to earn all-conference honors.

“I think we have two very good people up front in Ryan Shay and Luke Watson, who I think are as good as anybody in the country,” Piane said. “Shay was an All-American during the outdoor track season in the 10,000 and Luke was the national junior cross country champion – that’s a nice way to start.”

Another of the team’s top runners, senior Ryan Maxwell, returns for his fifth season. Maxwell tallied a fourth at the Wolf & Kettle Invitational, a seventh at the National Catholic meet and ended the year with a 42nd at the BIG EAST meet and a 53rd at districts in 1998. In 1997, the Staten Island, N.Y., native was 10th at the conference meet to earn all-BIG EAST honors and then tied for the team lead (50th) with 1998 graduate Jason Rexing at the NCAA championships to lead the squad to a 12th-place finish.

Other returners who ran for the Irish at last season’s district meet include senior Sean McManus and sophomore Marc Striowski. McManus was 26th at the 1998 BIG EAST meet (fifth on the team), while Striowski placed 36th at his first conference meet. Piane also expects key contributions from two 1998 BIG EAST meet participants – seniors John Dudley and Mike Griewe. Dudley placed 43rd at the BIG EAST meet after finishing as the team’s top runner (18th) at the Central Collegiates. Griewe, who will serve as one of the team’s two captains along with Shay, ran in five races after competing in only one as a sophomore.

In addition to the returnees, Piane believes freshman Antonio Lopez, a three-time event winner at the 1999 New Mexico state track meet, can contribute immediately. Lopez also was third at the state cross country champion as a senior at St. Pius X in Albuquerque, N.M.

With its nucleus returning, the team’s key meets include the Notre Dame Invitational, the pre-national meet in Bloomington, Ind., the BIG EAST and district championships.

“From October 1 on, we need to run well,” Piane says. “That’s not to say that we are not going to try to run well at the first meet or the National Catholic meet, but those meets are not as important to qualify for the NCAAs.

“To qualify for the NCAAs, (the selection committee) only looks at the last four weekends from September on and those two meets precede that. If we win or lose those meets, it’s not going to have any effect on an at-large bid.”

After winning the BIG EAST meet in 1997, the Irish took home third at the conference race behind Providence and Georgetown last season.

“The BIG EAST is going to get even better this season,” Piane said. “Providence had a great recruiting year and so did Georgetown, so we’re really going have to come together and run as well as we’re capable of.”