Nov. 19, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Ryan Shay has accomplished many of the goals he set for himself since arriving on campus in 1997.
A junior on the Notre Dame Men’s Cross Country team, Shay is ready to take a shot at the top goal on that list – becoming a national champion. He and his teammates will travel to Bloomington, Ind., on Monday, November 15 for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
An impressive 1999 cross country season has established Shay as one of the favorites to win this year’s meet.
“There are a lot of people saying I could finish top five, or even win the race,” Shay says, “but I realize it is not going to be easy.”
Shay, who has finished no lower than fourth in the five meets he has run this year, has had one of the top season for and Irish harrier in recent memory. He started the season with his third consecutive victory in as many tries at the National Catholic meet, becoming the first male runner in the 20-year history of the meet to win three titles. In his next meet, at the Notre Dame Invitationa, which attracted some of the nation’s top cross country runners, Shay led Notre Dame to a third-place finish and became the first Irish runner to win the individual title since Bill Clark in 1964.
The Pre-National meet, held on the same course the national championship will be run on in Bloomington, was his next test. Against a strong and compeititive field, the Central Lake, Mich., native finish fourth.
“This year is the first year I felt I have improved every single race,” Shay says. “My freshman year I felt I made it to the half way point and fell backward. Last year I thought I made it a little past the half way point but fell backward again. This is the first year I felt I have improved at consistent increments the entire season.”
Shay flashed signs of that impressive improvement at the 1999 BIG EAST Championship meet when he became the first Irish runner to win the BIG EAST individual title and help his team capture its second BIG EAST crown since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995. Shay relishes that victory a little more than the others this season because it gave him a little piece of revenge on a BIG EAST rival.
“That victory was satisfying because Keith Kelly from Providence had beat me in the 10,000 during the BIG EAST track season,” Shay explains. “I had led all 24 laps until the last one when he out-kicked me. The (cross country race) was exciting because it was a come from behind victory for me. Kelly had a 100 meter lead after we came out of the first set of turns in the woods. I knew if I could close half the distance in the open, I could catch him during the second series of trails in the woods. Eventually I did overtake him to win the race.”
Shay would continue his string of impressive runs with a second-place finish in the District IV meet, run a week ago in Terre Haute, Ind. Again, his high finish allowed the Irish to lock up a high finish in the field and receive a bid to the national championship meet.
The team invitation completed a team goal the Irish had set after not receiving a spot in the NCAA field last season. It was the first time since 1991 that Notre Dame did not qualify for the meet. The disappointment of not participating as a team provided the perfect motivation over a summer while training.
“I am so proud of the team,” Shay says. “We basically have the same team from last year. We went into the season with a chip on our shoulder — we wanted to prove to people that last year was a fluke and we have done that. It is a credit to the work the guys put in over the summer. Our goals were to strengthen ourselves for an at-large bid at the pre-nationals, win the BIG EAST, and get an invitation to the national meet. We did it all.”
The experience of running on the Bloomington course in the Pre-National meet gives Shay and his teammates an extra advantage.
“This will be my third time running the course,” Shay says. “It is one that my teammates andI like. It’s somewhat hilly and its close by so it takes away some of the stress of travelling.”
Ready for the challenge of going up against the nation’s best, Shay is looking forward to Monday’s race. He knows and understands what it will take to win the race. “As a cross country runner, you pick out someone in the field that you have to beat,” Shay says “Times are irrelevant because of the different courses. What you have to do is just concentrate on sticking by the best guy in the race. Midway through the race, I make my decision to go after him or hold back.
“I like the (Bloomington) course a lot. At the pre-national meet I was moving up on the leaders between the seven and eight kilometer mark. In the nationals, there is an extra two kilometers added to the race. I’m usually a runner who finishes very strong, especially on this type of uphill course. Our team’s strategy is to be conservative at the start and then pick people off as they begin to tire.”
Considered one of several favorites in the race, if Shay can win the individual title, he would become the first Irish harrier to the NCAA crown since 1957. And that fete would certainly cap off one of the greatest accomplishments for Shay at Notre Dame.