Oct. 31, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — When news broke in September of 2012 that Notre Dame would join the Atlantic Coast Conference, the head men’s and women’s cross country coaches Joe Piane and Tim Connelly had the same reaction-that it wouldn’t change a thing.
“I thought it was going to be a wash,” recalls Piane. “Because the BIG EAST is very good in cross country and so is the ACC.”
“To be honest, I knew we were trading one really good conference for another,” Connelly agrees. “If you look at the history of the BIG EAST, there were five, six, seven teams every year at the NCAAs. I think the ACC has the same potential. It was like, ‘OK. This is comparable.'”
But this Friday marks the first time that the Irish will feel their conference change in full force as they travel to Kernersville, N.C., for the ACC Championships, hosted by Wake Forest University. And as much as Piane and Connelly feel that the level of competition is the same, there is an air of excitement as the team boards the bus.
“It’s different because it’s new,” Piane explains. “You know, if we were going to the BIG EAST Championships today, I could tell you exactly how everything would go. I would know how the meeting was going to go, I would know how the format would be. But with this, everything is fresh, and that’s exciting. I think if you asked some of the runners who have been around a while and know the BIG EAST, they would say the same thing. It’s exciting to be doing something different.”
Connelly also says that there’s a thrill that comes with change, but he adds that the teams the Irish will be facing off against are ones that they have seen in previous seasons.
“There are a lot of really good teams,” Connelly says. “The reality is that we’ve competed against these teams over the years a lot. I think they’re all people that we’re pretty familiar with based on regular season meets and NCAA meets.”
Notre Dame has already seen success this season as a member of the ACC. Three Irish runners-graduate student Jeremy Rae, senior Kelly Curran and sophomore Sydni Meunier-were awarded ACC Cross Country Performer of the Week honors. Connelly says that those awards were great for the confidence of the runners and the program, but you can’t rest on them.
And the Irish haven’t been resting. Although the Notre Dame student body was on fall break last week, the cross country team was on campus, pushing to be in the best possible shape for this meet.
“The great thing with fall break for our kids is they get to mentally relax,” Connelly says. “All of a sudden, they don’t have to get up for class every day. They get a lot more sleep. Our practices were the focus of their day. Let’s make sure you come in here and this is where you’re at, as opposed to rushing here from class and squeezing in your workout before the next thing. Break comes at a really good time, right before championship season.”
Piane and Connelly agree that now is the time for the Irish to perform better than they have all season and that they are very capable of that feat.
“I expect them to run better than they have at any other meet this year,” Piane explains. “Because they have to. And I think they will. Especially the women-the women have been practicing very well lately.”
Last month, the women placed sixth of 24 and the men seventh of 27 at the Notre Dame Invitational, and two weeks ago, the women finished in 13th place of 37 teams and the men finished in 14th of 35 teams at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. Connelly agrees with Piane when he says that the team is at its healthiest and fittest point of the year, which speaks well to their potential for the ACC Championships.
“We’re more ready to run than we have been all season. Hopefully it plays out that way.”
The men’s race gets underway Friday at 10 a.m. at Beeson Park in Kernersville, N.C., and the women’s race starts an hour later at 11 a.m. Results will be posted here at UND.com following the meet.
–Lauren Chval, Media Relations Assistant
Notre Dame Runners
Women: Alexa Aragon, Danielle Aragon, Kelly Curran, Hannah Eckstein, Emily Frydrych, Gabby Gonzales, Karen Lesiewicz, Sydni Meunier, McKinzie Schulz, Molly Seidel