Sept. 6, 2001
Notre Dame women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly won’t hide the fact that he was disappointed at the end of the 2000 season. After sending the team to the NCAA Championship meet in 1999, the Irish dropped out of contention for a championship berth last season.
“We were very young last year and had to rely on a number of runners with little or no collegiate experience,” Connelly says.
“But as the year went on a lot of those kids improved. By the end of the outdoor track and field season most of them had the experience and training they needed to help us this fall during the cross country season.”
Junior Jennifer Handley will fill a familiar role as the top Irish runner in 2001. Handley also was the top returning upperclassman last season, but struggled to regain her freshman form throughout the year. She won the Valparaiso Invitational for the second consecutive year early in 2000, but finished no higher than 19th in the remaining four meets.
“Jen Handley was dissappointed in her cross country season last year, but by the end of the outdoor track and field season she was second in the BIG EAST in the 5,000 meters,” Connelly says.
“She is going to be counted on as one of our up-front people.”
One of Connelly’s inexperienced runners did achieve some early season success last year. Sophomore Megan Johnson, who finished third behind two teammates at the Valparaiso Invitational, won her first home cross country meet by taking first in the National Catholic Invitational. She came back strong to finish third on the team in the highly competitive Notre Dame Invitational, but struggled during the second half of the season due to a bout with a stubborn cold.
“Megan Johnson started out the season very well but got a little sick,” Connelly says.
“At the end of the track and field season, though, she set the school record in the 1,500 meters (4:26.91). She really showed that she is going to be someone that other runners across the nation are going to have to deal with.”
Another top returning harrier for the Irish this season will be junior Jennifer Fibuch. Fibuch was in and out of the top-five runners for the Irish in 2000. Just like many of her teammates, she made great strides during the track and field season.
“Jen Fibuch was right on the fringe throughout the cross country season,” Connelly says. “By the end of the track and field season she had established herself as one of our top runners. We are expecting those three runners (Handley, Johnson and Fibuch) to do a lot for us.”
Additions to the 2001 active roster will come in the form of incoming freshman and a number of sophomores who did not participate last season due to illness or injuries.
“I think (freshman) Lauren King (Toronto, Ontario) can really come and help us,” Connelly says.
“She was the Canadian Junior National 1,500-meter champion and finished 26th in the Canadian National Cross Country Championships. She is excited about getting the chance to come in and contribute right away. She might not race early in the year due to her track and field season running long over the summer, but she is a solid competitor who won’t be intimidated by the competition.”
Christine Arnerich and Kerry Meagher are two more freshman that might get a chance to make a name for themselves in 2001.
“Our top runners are going to be upperclassmen that were here last season and went through some growing pains,” Connelly says.
“Rachel Endress, Beth Androski, Maggie Nelson and Katie Ellgass were all out action during the cross country season last year but have the ability to contribute this fall.” There are two other upperclassmen that scored some important finishes in 2000 and return to provide some guidance for their younger teammates.
“Muffy Schmidt was in our top seven and was a bit up and down,” Connelly says.
“She had a great summer of training and is someone that can help us. Megan Peterson was a walk on we didn’t even know about last year until the beginning of the cross country season, but during the track and field season she showed that she is a runner that can help us in cross country.”
Connelly feels comfortable with his young roster for the 2001 season knowing that they will all remember the growing pains of the previous season.
“I am excited,” Connelly says.
“I think that we are going to be a lot better than we were a year ago.”