June 9, 2003
By Cory Walton
At this weekend’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on the campus of Sacramento State University, in Sacramento, Calif., Notre Dame freshman Molly Huddle has a chance to make history. The native of Elmira, N.Y., could become the first female track and field athlete in Irish history to win an event at the NCAA Championships when she lines up for the 5,000-meter run.
Huddle certainly has the credentials to write her name in the record books as she comes into the meet with the third-fastest time in the nation this season after setting the American Junior record in the 5,000 meters at the Mt. Sac Relays back in April. Huddle’s time of 15:36.95 trails only the marks of two-time defending champion Lauren Fleshman of Stanford (15:23.94) and Colorado sophomore Sara Gorton, who placed in the top five in the 2002 NCAA race as a freshman, and has a time of 15:24.97 in ’03.
“Most of the other girls running are veterans. I’m going to be one of the youngest girls in the race,” Huddle says.
Huddle, however, is no slouch in comparison to her closest competitors. During the outdoor track season, Huddle accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments as she won the 5,000-meter champion at both the BIG EAST Outdoor Championship and the NCAA Mideast Regional, as well as posting a top-five finish at the Mt. Sac Relays. The immediate success Huddle enjoyed on the college level is a fitting follow-up to an illustrious high school career that saw her become one of the nation’s top runners in her age group. She was twice named an All-American in outdoor track and field, and earned that same distinction as a senior in both cross country and indoor track and field at Notre Dame High School.
The start of Huddle’s progression into one of the nation’s top young runners dates back to seventh grade, when she got her start in competitive track and field.
“My dad was a runner, and he really got me started in track,” she said.
“He didn’t push me into it or anything, but I saw him doing it and I thought I would try track.”
Huddle also played basketball and soccer at Notre Dame, but ultimately decided to give those sports up to pursue her running career.
“Running just felt more natural. Plus, I had more success on the track,” Huddle says.
Huddle’s senior year turned out to be a dominating as she placed first in the mile run at the Nike Indoor Classic, setting a meet record for the event, and the two-mile run at the adidas Outdoor Championships. Along the way, Huddle also managed to set a national high school record in the two-mile run, which was the proudest moment of her high school career.
“That was pretty shocking. It just sounds so substantial, an American record for high schoolers,” Huddle says.
Huddle also put together a stellar cross country career during her time in high school despite the fact that she was only able to compete for one season and her high school did not sponsor the sport. Like a race, Huddle took the lead and competed as a one-runner team during her senior year. She was coached by her father, Robert Huddle, a ’69 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
“There were some weird rules, like not enough interest or something, that wouldn’t allow them (Notre Dame H.S.) to formulate an actual team,” Huddle explained.
“My dad took on the coaching and paid for the meets, and I ran by myself. It was nice because I could go to the major meets and plan my own schedule.”
As her list of accolades boasts, Huddle made her year of cross country count. Besides earning All-America honors, she was undefeated en route to the conference, regional and state championships, not to mention a fourth-place finish at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship.
After such an accomplished high school career, Huddle was a much-sought-after recruit heading into college. For her, however, the decision of which school to attend was a relatively easy one.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Notre Dame,” she said.
“It’s been a family tradition. My dad and uncle went here, and they’ve always talked so much about it. It’s also academically outstanding.”
A year has gone by since she made the decision to come to South Bend, and Huddle, who plans to major in biology, has learned what it means to be a student-athlete at a high profile university such as Notre Dame.
“It’s definitely tougher than being a normal student,” Huddle says.
“You miss a lot of class, and some teachers aren’t very forgiving about it, but there are a lot of services to help you such as tutors and academic advisors.”
While she has been training for the NCAA Championships, Huddle has also been taking an organic chemistry class during the summer.
At the NCAA meet, Huddle hopes to add another mark to her rapidly-growing list of successes. Even though she will be competing against some of the nation’s top runners, Huddle has set some high goals.
“I’d like to place in the top eight and earn All-America status. Also, I don’t know if another personal record is reasonable this season, but that’s definitely another goal I have in mind.”
Will history be made? Only her time will tell.