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Irish hope to clinch berth for NCAA Tournament

Steve Coyer | Friday, November 12, 2004

After strong performances all season, the Notre Dame cross country teams will set out to solidify a bid for the NCAA championship this weekend.

At the Great Lakes Regional Saturday, the Irish can automatically qualify for the NCAA meet with a first- or second-place finish. Both teams already stand among the top in the country with the men and women nationally-ranked fifth and sixth respectively.

The men’s team comes off a very close first-place finish in the Big East Championship and hopes to carry the momentum through the remainder of the season.

“If we run like we did at the Big East we should have no problem qualifying for the NCAAs but we just need to reproduce that effort,” men’s coach Joe Piane said.

The Irish women have won two consecutive championships at the Great Lakes, and the team will look to add to that streak.

“We hope to finish in the top two and become an automatic qualifier for the NCAAs,” women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “We’ve been in the top two for the past three years and our kids are focused on making it four in a row.”

The Irish have faced the nation’s best runners all season and this Saturday will be no exception. The men’s team will take on No. 1 ranked Wisconsin along with No. 10 Indiana.

“Wisconsin is No. 1 and have been there all year and they deserve it,” Piane said. “We are healthy, and the guys think we can run well and run with anyone in the country.”

Molly Huddle captured the 2003 individual title at the Great Lakes Regional but will sit out this year to rest a sore foot. Despite the critical loss, Connelly feels confident the remaining squad will perform well.

“We still expect to have a very strong group running on Saturday even without Molly [Huddle],” Connelly said. “Our goal is to qualify for the NCAAs.”

With a 15th-place finish at last year’s regional and sixth place at the Big East, Tim Moore looks to be the top runner for the Irish men. Kurt Benninger, Kaleb Van Ort, Sean O’Donnell and Vincent Ambrico make up the rest of the team’s top five.

Without Huddle, the Irish women will rely on strong efforts from Lauren King, Stephanie Madia and Kerry Meagher. Madia came in 10th place at the Big East behind Huddle.

The Great Lakes Regional will take place Saturday in Ypsilanti, Mich. starting at 11 a.m.