Sept. 2, 2003
By Chris Chamberland
The University of Notre Dame Notre Dame women’s cross country team enjoyed unprecedented success last year, and looks to build on those achievements and post another top-five NCAA finish, while competing in a conference (BIG EAST) and a region (Great Lakes) stacked with some of the nation’s best teams.
Head coach Tim Connelly exudes a humble confidence this fall as his team prepares to begin the 2003 campaign.
“Our goal is, number one, to have each runner improve and to reach her potential, and number two to improve as a team, and that may or may not translate into a higher finish at the national meet because you don’t control what other people do,” Connelly says.
This Notre Dame team however, may find it difficult to not have high expectations for the season. Two years ago, the Irish women’s cross country squad enjoyed its most successful season ever, culminating in a 19th-place finish in the NCAA Championship. Last year, the Irish bettered that with what was far and away their most successful season in the 15-year history of the program. The Irish captured the BIG EAST team championship last fall behind sophomore Lauren King, who was the conference individual champion. The Notre Dame women then placed first in the Great Lakes Regional meet before finishing third in the NCAA meet. The core of that team returns this year, with seven of the top nine runners from 2002 back this fall.
Despite everything there is to be excited about, Connelly makes sure his team keeps it all in perspective.
“What we talked about the first day of practice was that we’re going to be ranked real high because of reputation, and that doesn’t mean anything. We’re more worried about who we are than who people think we are,” Connelly says.
Molly Huddle, now a sophomore after an outstanding rookie season, and King again will be expected to lead the way for the Irish.
“Those two are really talented, and they’re also great competitors. Lauren has also become a great leader, which is something every good team needs,” Connelly says.
Huddle entered last season hailed as one of the top freshman distance runners in the country, and she did not disappoint.
Huddle was held out of the first two meets of the season, but burst onto the collegiate scene with a fourth-place finish (first on the team) at the Notre Dame Invitational. She followed that race with a seventh-place finish at the Pre-National Meet. Huddle then claimed second place in the BIG EAST Championship meet, followed by a team-leading second place at the Great Lakes Regional. She then led the team with a sixth-place finish at the NCAAs, earning All-America honors. After an outstanding track and field season, including a national junior record in the 5,000 meters, Huddle should be poised to lead the Irish in 2003.
Huddle will not be alone at the front of the pack this season. Lauren King should be right up there with her all season long, just as she was last fall.
King followed a stellar freshman year with an even better sophomore season. Most notably, King was the BIG EAST individual champion, and also placed 19th at nationals, garnering All-America honors for the second consecutive season. King also was the team’s top finisher in two other meets last season.
Huddle and King are clearly Notre Dame’s top two harriers, but team success is built on depth and this Irish team has plenty of it.
“The big key to our success late last year was the fact that Stephanie Madia and Loryn King just kept getting better every single race, and they were much different athletes in November then they were in the beginning of October,” Connelly says.
Loryn King placed 23rd for Notre Dame in the ultra-competitive BIG EAST meet, then finished 25th in the Great Lakes Regional and 56th at Nationals. “Loryn had some injuries during the track season. We’re hoping she will be ready late this fall. She’s unbelievably competitive and she showed that last year,” Connelly says.
Madia rounded out the scoring for the Irish in the BIG EAST meet and placed 27th in the regional meet. She also grabbed a top-60 spot in the NCAAs as Notre Dame’s fifth runner.
Senior Megan Johnson’s name was missing from the top of the results for much of last year, but Connelly expects her to return to her previous form this season.
Megan Johnson will return in full form for the 2003 season after battling through an illness in the 2002 campaign.
“Megan was hurt most of the cross country season last year but, in 2001 she was our number-two runner. She’s really talented and capable of doing great things.”
Katie Wales (49th at BIG EAST Championship) and Jean Marinangeli (56th at BIG EAST Championship) could also be important contributors this year.
“Jean Marinangeli was in our top nine last year, and she had a really good outdoor track season. She’s just really tough and competitive.” Connelly says.
“Amy Kohlmeier was a Canadian junior cross country champ a few years back and is very talented. Katie DeRusso was one of the top kids in New York so she’s going to help us. Brianne Schmidt was one of the top kids in Montana,” Connelly says.
The 2003 season begins for both the men’s and women’s team this Friday, Sept. 5, at the Valparaiso Invitational.
NOTE: The 2003 Notre Dame men’s cross country preview will follow on Wednesday, Sept. 3.