Senior All-Americans Stephanie Madia (left) and Molly Huddle (right) finished 2-3 at Saturday's NCAA Great Lakes Regional, pacing the fourth-ranked Irish to a second-place finish and automatic berth in the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21.

Sweep Success: Irish Cross Country Teams Roll To BIG EAST Titles

BRONX, N.Y. — Running one of their best races of the year, the nationally-ranked Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams both won the 2005 BIG EAST Conference Championships, which were contested Friday in crisp, cool conditions at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The twin victories give the Irish their first-ever sweep of the BIG EAST titles, and it marks just the fourth time in conference history (first since Providence in 1996) that one school has won both crowns.

(NOTE: The 2005 BIG EAST Cross Country Championships will be replayed on College Sports Television (DirecTV Channel 610) on Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. ET. Check local listings for times and availability.)

The No. 4 Notre Dame women led off the day by winning their third BIG EAST Championship in the past four years and regaining the trophy they had lost to Providence last season. The Irish had four of the top 10 finishes in the 6K race and posted a 34-59 victory over the 16th-ranked Friars, notching the lowest score in the conference meet since 1994, when Villanova edged PC, 29-34. In fact, Notre Dame’s 34 points are the fewest by any school other than Villanova, which had six sub-30 scores from 1984-94.

“We ran a very smart, controlled team race and followed our strategy from start to finish,” Irish head women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly said. “It was a slow pace, which helped some of our runners a little further back in the pack. I’m pleased with how things turned out and now we’ll turn our focus to getting ready for regionals.”

Less than an hour later, it was the fifth-ranked Irish men who grabbed the brass ring, winning their fifth league title and second in a row in a much easier fashion than last year’s one-point nail biter over Georgetown. This season, Notre Dame left little doubt, sending five runners among the first 10 across the line and registering a 31-51 win over the No. 9 Hoyas in the five-mile event to become the first back-to-back BIG EAST champions since Providence in 1995-96.

“Our guys did a super job of pacing themselves and running a strong tactical race,” Irish head men’s cross country coach Joe Piane said. “We had a good idea of how our lead guys would do, but it was very satisfying to see some of our other runners compete like they did. This is a good start to the final month of our season and we’ll look to build on this as we look forward to the regionals in a couple of weeks.”

Individually, the Notre Dame women had four runners earn all-BIG EAST honors, led by senior All-American Molly Huddle (Elmira, N.Y./Notre Dame), who finished second overall (20:52) to earn her fourth consecutive all-league citation. Huddle becomes the first Notre Dame women’s cross country runner ever to be named all-conference four times.

Senior All-American Stephanie Madia (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) was two seconds behind Huddle in third place, picking up her second all-BIG EAST plaque in as many years. Sophomore All-American Sunni Olding (Minster, Ohio/Minster) was the first second-year runner over the line in fifth place (21:04) to earn her second all-league award, and freshman Ramsey Kavan (Yankton, S.D./Yankton) came in eighth (21:26) as the first rookie to finish and also earned all-BIG EAST laurels.

The final Notre Dame scoring runner was junior Katie DeRusso (Fairport, N.Y./Fairport), whose 16th-place finish in 21:58 was her best of the season. Senior Jean Marinangeli (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) was 18th overall in 22:01, while senior Elizabeth Webster (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child) placed 32nd in 22:28.

Meanwhile in the men’ race, all five Notre Dame runners that factored into the team scoring earned all-BIG EAST honors, a first in program history. Junior Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) earned his second all-league citation in as many years, finishing second in 24:09, which also broke the BIG EAST meet record at Van Cortlandt Park. Ironically, this year’s individual champion, Providence junior Martin Fagan, also broke the course’s BIG EAST record with a blistering time of 23:48, believed to be the fastest collegiate time ever at the facility.

Behind Benninger, senior Tim Moore (Novi, Mich./Novi) picked up his fourth all-conference plaque in as many years, finishing fifth overall in a time of 24:24. In his four-year Irish career, Moore finished among the top 10 at the BIG EAST Championship each season, with this year’s fifth-place showing being his best ever. Moore also joins Ryan Shay and Luke Watson as the only four-time all-BIG EAST selections in school history.

Fifth-year senior Sean O’Donnell (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst) came in seventh (24:34) to garner his second all-conference award in as many years. Senior Kaleb Van Ort (Waterloo, Ind./DeKalb) took home all-BIG EAST honors for the third year in a row with an eighth-place finish (24:35), while freshman Patrick Smyth (Salt Lake City, Utah/Judge Memorial) rounded out the Irish scoring and all-conference parade in ninth place (24:42), becoming the first rookie to hit the tape.

Two other Notre Dame runners finished among the top 20 in the field. Sophomore Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area) came home in 18th place, while senior Vinny Ambrico (Altamonte Springs, Fla./Choate Rosemary Hall Academy) was 19th overall, with both men finishing in a time of 25:14.

Both Notre Dame coaches and their staffs also were recognized for their efforts. Connelly and his aides picked up their third BIG EAST Women’s Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year award, to go along with trophies they garnered in 2002 and 2003. Meanwhile, Piane and his assistants also earned their third BIG EAST Men’s Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year honor, adding to awards they received in 2001 and 2004.

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will return to action on Nov. 12, when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. The top two teams from the regional will earn automatic berths to the NCAA Championships, and both Irish squads will be seeking to equal or exceed their runner-up finishes at last year’s regional meet.

— ND —