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Healthy Irish return six of seven top runners in 2003

Joe Lindsley | Thursday, August 21, 2003

After losing only one of their top seven to graduation, the Irish harriers are planning to be in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the national championships come November.Last year, the Irish finished 22nd after just barely qualifying for the NCAA title race.”Our expectations are that we return to the NCAAs, like we did last year. We graduate only our seventh man off of that team [John Keane],” Irish coach Joe Piane said.Piane, who is entering his 28th season at the helm of the Irish, believes the team has several promising prospects for the empty slot among the team’s top runners. Junior Sean O’Donnell, who has “trained exceptionally well,” according to Piane, posted an 8:25 performance in the 3,000-meter run at the Big East track championships last spring. Additionally, Kaleb van Ort looks to be another contender for Notre Dame.”[Van Ort] had a very nice track season, but struggled in cross country, frankly because he was sick” Piane said.  “One of those guys certainly can replace our seventh man.”The Irish have one very promising incoming freshman who is expected to compete with the team’s best talent. Freshman Kurt Benninger, a two-time member of the Canadian national cross country team, competed in the world cross country championships and was a silver medalist in the recent Pan Am Junior Championships, during which he completed the 1,600-meter race in 3:49.Irish All-American Todd Mobley, after suffering an injury last fall that seemed to have a negative effect on his teammates morale and performances, is completely healthy as he enters his senior season. Mobley finished 80th, and 61st in team scoring, at the NCAA Championships last year. The Irish will also count on sophomore Tim Moore, who led the Irish at nationals last year with his 63rd-place finish.”I think we’ll have a much better year when everyone knows that you have a healthy Todd Mobley, Tim Moore and Kurt Benninger up front,” Piane said. “That’s got to inspire everyone to run well. As a team, we’re going to do exceptional.”Another reason for a positive outlook for the upcoming season is the fact the Irish will be competing for the Big East Championships at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, N.Y. The Irish have a history of struggling during the alternate years that the conference championship is held in Boston, while they have captured several conference titles in the Bronx.Notre Dame’s season begins Sept. 5 with the Valparaiso Invitational. As this is not an especially competitive event, Mobley, Moore and Benninger will likely sit out.