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Runners strive for more

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, August 19, 2004

Last year’s performance at the Great Lakes Regional Championship may be all the motivation the Irish need to climb back into the elite of collegiate cross country.In 2003, the 18th-ranked Irish failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship after taking second place at the Big East Championship. They took eighth place at the Great Lakes Regional, and failed to receive an at-large bid.”Last year, they were up and down,” women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly said of the team coached by Joe Piane, who was in Athens as of press time. “If they ran the same way at regionals as they did at the Big East, they would have qualifiedInstead, the Irish find themselves looking to avenge what turned out to be a disappointing season. But they will have to do it without four-year contributor Todd Mobley.”He’s really the big loss,” Connelly said of the 2003 graduate.Mobley was named an Academic All-American in June after posting a 3.83 grade point average, but his accolades were not limited to academics. Mobley posted four top 30 finishes in 2003, including two in the top 10. He also earned All-American honors for the second time in his career, finishing 27th overall at the NCAA Championship.Connelly said seniors Eric Morrison and Sean O’Donnell, juniors Kaleb VanOrt and Tim Moore and sophomore Kurt Benninger will help replace Mobley.Moore finished sixth at the Big East Championship in 2003, and has earned All-Big East honors his last two seasons. VanOrt earned All-Big East honors last season for the first time, finishing 12th. O’Donnell and Benninger finished 20th and 21st, respectively. At the Great Lakes Regional, Moore finished 15th overall and Benninger finished 38th. O’Donnell rounded out the scoring with a 41st place finish. This group will be key for the 2004 season.’These are the guys that will really be expected to carry the load,” Connelly said. And the load will be significant, as the Irish expect to compete with the best teams in the country.”The big focus is on the Big East, regionals and nationals,” Connelly said. “That’s the main focus.” But the most important thing for this year’s Irish team to be successful is consistency.”More than anything, they need to be more consistent in the way they compete,” he said. “Consistency of effort is really important.”Also hoping to make an impact is the brother of Luke Watson, one of the most successful runners in Irish history. Jake Watson may contribute early, Connelly said.”He’s a very good cross country runner,” Connelly said of Jake. “We have some freshmen that could help.”Connelly said the team has been training as individuals this summer, some running as much as 85 to 90 miles each week. And that is what needs to be done so the Irish don’t repeat last year’s disappointment.”We have a pretty strong tradition in cross country here,” he said. “Last year was a big disappointment. They expect more of themselves.”This year’s team hopes to be one of the 31 teams that go to the NCAA Championship. Connelly acknowledged that they have “by far the toughest region,” but he thinks the Irish can do it.”We’ve got a group that’s capable of being in the top 30,” he said. The Irish kick off the season Sept. 10 with the Valparaiso Invitational. However, Connelly said the top runners probably will not run until Oct. 1 at the Notre Dame Invitational.