Sept. 21, 1999
The Notre Dame women’s cross country team will be looking to do more than just finish strong in 1999.
After placing fourth at the 26-team NCAA District IV championships, the Irish were left off the list for the 13 at-large bids to the 1998 NCAA championships, despite recording their best performance at the district meet since 1994. For head coach Tim Connelly, who begins his 12th year at the helm, that means the Irish will have to prove that they’re one of the top team’s throughout the entire season and not just at the district and BIG EAST championships.
“The thing with cross country is that you have to have five people running well at once and we didn’t do that very often until the end of the year,” Connelly said. “That’s going to be something this year that we’re really going to have to focus on – – making sure we’re all hitting it on the same day.”
The Irish will be led once again by the school’s first two-time women’s cross country All-American, senior co-captain JoAnna Deeter, who placed 14th a year ago at the NCAAs after earning an individual bid to the championships.
“The 14th was more important to me than getting third place when I was a freshman, just because of the way I got there,” Deeter said. “Winning those races in the beginning of the season and going into the NCAA meet was exactly how I wanted to get (to the NCAAs).”
Deeter led the way for the Irish all year, winning the her first four races in as many tries. She notched victories at the season-opening Wolf & Kettle Invitational, the National Catholic Championships, the Notre Dame Invitational and the Wolverine Interregional. The win at the National Catholic meet was Deeter’s third in as many years, and she became the only two-time winner in the history of the 12-year-old Notre Dame Invitational with a first-place time of 17:25.
“I don’t know how you can improve on what she (Deeter) did last year other than win one of those championship races,” Connelly said. “I’m sure she’s looking in that direction, too, and I know she would like to have the team at the national meet. We have people here that are capable of doing that.”
Besides Deeter, the Irish return all of the team’s six other runners who competed at the 1998 NCAA district championships, including a talented group of seniors, Alison Klemmer, Erin Luby and Patty Rice.
Klemmer, who became a two-time All-American in outdoor track in 1999, finished 22nd at the district cross country meet as the second Notre Dame runner to cross the finish line. She also was third on the team at the 1998 BIG EAST championships (36th) and posted 11th- and 33rd-place finishes at the National Catholic and Notre Dame Invitational.
Luby returns for the second year as one of the team’s captains. The Inverness, Ill., native ran in six races in 1999, posting two top-25 finishes in the start of the year and a 43rd at the BIG EAST championships.
Rice emerged as the team’s number two runner for the majority of her junior season. She opened up the year with a fourth at the Wolf & Kettle Invitational and then tallied a sixth at the National Catholic championships. The native of Mishawaka, Ind., closed the year with back-to-back 27th-place finishes at the BIG EAST and district races.
Other returnees from the 1998 Notre Dame district meet squad include juniors Bridget O’Brien, Erin Olson and Jennifer Pavela.
Olson, who finished 38th at the district meet, may have been the biggest surprise on the team last season.
“The person who really emerged last season was Erin Olson,” Connelly said. “She ran solidly in our top five the entire year and then on the track, ended up scoring outdoors in the BIG EAST meet in the 1,500. She’s someone that we definitely look to contribute.”
Another person Connelly is looking at to contribute in 1999 is freshman Jennifer Handley. Handley is a three-time qualifier for the world junior cross country championships, where she placed 75th in 1999, 36th in 1996 and 32nd in 1995. A graduate of Barrie Central Collegiate Institute in Canada, she was fourth last season at the Canadian Junior Cross Country Championships.
“We have one freshman coming in who can make an impact right away in Jennifer Handley,” Connelly says. “She’s been the top distance runner in Ontario, for the last several years and has been at the world cross country championships three times. She has a lot of experience at big meets and she’s obviously a really talented runner, which will be a key asset for us in the upcoming season.”
With all of their top runners returning plus the addition of Handley, the Irish face a tough schedule in their bid to qualify for the NCAA championships as a team.
“It’s a similar schedule as last season, the only difference is that we’re going to go to the pre-national meet (in Bloomington, Ind.) this year, because I think we have a team that’s capable at being at the national meet,” Connelly said.
The team’s inclusion in the 1999 NCAA meet may also be affected by its performance in the BIG EAST championships, October 29, in Bronx, N.Y. Last year, the team placed fifth overall at the conference meet, which included NCAA champion Villanova and Georgetown and Providence, which both finished in the top 15 at the NCAA meet.
“We want to keep improving in the BIG EAST,” Connelly says. “Last year on the track, we were third both indoors and outdoors and that’s the level that we want to get to in cross country as well.
“It’s a tough conference and it hasn’t gotten any worse, so for us to move up from where we were last season, we’re just going to have to step in and perform really well.”