Senior All-Americans Stephanie Madia (left) and Molly Huddle (right) will lead the eighth-ranked Notre Dame women's cross country team into Saturday's Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind.

Nationally-Ranked Irish Set For Pre-Nationals Meet

Oct. 13, 2005

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The midpoint of the 2005 season for the nationally-ranked Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will come Saturday when the Irish take part in the Pre-Nationals Meet, to be held in Terre Haute, Ind., on the LaVern Gibson Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center. The No. 7 Notre Dame men will compete in the 8K White race, which starts at 11:40 a.m. (EST/CDT), while the eighth-ranked Irish women will run in the 6K Blue race at 12:20 p.m. (EST/CDT). Notre Dame is one of just four schools in the country to have both its men’s and women’s cross country programs ranked among the top 10 in the national polls, joining defending NCAA men’s and women’s champion Colorado (#3 men/#7 women), BYU (#4 men/#4 women) and Stanford (#5 men/#3 women) in that elite group– and all four schools will send both of their ranked teams to Saturday’s meet.

The Pre-Nationals are being contested on the same course that will play host to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21. Historically, the Pre-Nationals have served as one of the better indicators of which teams will be contenders for the national title at season’s end. It also is among the largest regular-season meets of the year, with 73 men’s teams (22 ranked) and 77 women’s teams (23 ranked) scheduled to run Saturday in Terre Haute. Last year, both Irish teams finished second in their respective races — the men placed three runners in the top 30, while the women had four top-30 finishers.

The Notre Dame men’s cross country team have been ranked either sixth or seventh in the MONDO/USCCCA poll throughout this season, a campaign that has seen the Irish finish first once (Valparaiso Invitational) and second twice (National Catholic Championships; Notre Dame Invitational) in three races thus far. Veteran head coach Joe Piane will send an experienced lineup to the Pre-Nationals, led by junior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.), who finished fifth (23:42) in his 2005 debut at the Notre Dame Invitational, and senior Tim Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi), who earned All-America honors last year and was 10th (23:59) at the Notre Dame Invitational, also his first race of the ’05 season. Fifth-year senior Sean O’Donnell (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst) will make the trip as well, having opened his final year with an 18th-place showing (24:08) at the Notre Dame Invitational. All three men raced for the 2004 Irish squad that finished 11th at the NCAA Championships.

The primary x-factor for Notre Dame this weekend will be the performance of senior Kaleb Van Ort (Waterloo, Ind./DeKalb), who also ran in last year’s NCAA meet, but missed the first month of this season while recovering from an injury. Van Ort was a solid contributor for the Irish in 2004, peaking with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. He will be joined by junior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic), who debuted with a 61st-place finish (25:02) at the Notre Dame Invitational, his first cross country competition in nearly a year after his ’04 season was cut short by an injury. Rapidly-improving sophomore Dan Curran (Naperville, Ill./Naperville North), who was 37th (24:37) at the Notre Dame Invitational, and talented freshman Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial), who won the National Catholic Championships title (24:36) and was 34th at the Notre Dame Invitational (24:32), round out the Irish lineup.

“I have total confidence that we’ll get a solid race from Kurt, Tim and Sean,” Piane said. “I’m curious to see how Kaleb will perform with the limited training he’s done this year because of the injury. The big thing will be to see how Dan, Patrick and Todd run, because this will be biggest and best race these guys have run in so far. It’s imperative that our guys stay together and work with one another if we’re going to have success.”

The Notre Dame women’s cross country team, ranked eight in the current FinishLynx/WICCCA poll after being tabbed as high as third earlier this year, has finished no lower than third in its three races this year, winning the title at the National Catholic Championships. The Irish also had four of the top 11 finishers at the Notre Dame Invitational, while no other team in the high-powered field had more than one top-11 competitor.

Those same four runners who blitzed the Notre Dame Invitational meet will anchor the Irish lineup this weekend at the Pre-Nationals. Senior All-American Stephanie Madia (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) kicked off her season in fine fashion by winning the Notre Dame Invitational (16:36), three seconds ahead of her two-time All-America teammate, senior Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame). Sophomore All-American Sunni Olding (Minster, Ohio/Minster) followed up her first-place finish (17:42) at the National Catholic Championships with a ninth-place showing (17:14) at the Notre Dame Invitational. Highly-regarded freshman Ramsey Kavan (Yankton, S.D./Yankton) didn’t disappoint in her college debut, finishing 11th (17:16) at the Notre Dame Invitational.

Three veterans will complete the Irish lineup at the Pre-Nationals. Seniors Elizabeth Webster (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child) and Jean Marinangeli (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) had solid efforts at the National Catholic Championships, placing sixth (18:08) and 14th (18:36), respectively. Junior Katie DeRusso (Fairport, N.Y./Fairport) also ran well at the National Catholic meet, coming home 20th in 18:51. Marinangeli and DeRusso were members of the 2004 Irish squad that placed fourth at the NCAA Championships, also in Terre Haute.

“This weekend will be another opportunity to compete against many of the top teams in the country, as well as a chance to familiarize ourselves with the NCAA Championship course,” Notre Dame head women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly said. “We certainly want to improve on our most recent competition, as all of our runners felt that there were many aspects of their races which can be improved upon. We want to keep moving in the right direction toward becoming a great team by the championships meets in November.”

Complete results from the Pre-National Meet will be available upon conclusion of the day’s races at the official Notre Dame athletics web site ( as well as the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000).

— ND —