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ND WOMEN’S X-C: Younger runners compete

Ryan Kiefer | Friday, September 9, 2005

The Notre Dame women’s cross country team will not send any of its top runners to the season-opening meet, the Valparaiso Invitational, slated to take place this afternoon.

For any other team, this may seem like questionable coaching strategy, but Irish coach Tim Connelly has a plan.

He will save his best runners for later in the season, allowing them to get more uninterrupted training before they compete in any races.

This will allow them to be in peak shape for the most important races, including the conference, regional and NCAA meets, all of which take place in late October or early November.

It’s difficult to argue with Connelly’s philosophy. It has earned Notre Dame three consecutive NCAA top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place result last fall.

Though Connelly will be keeping his top athletes in South Bend this weekend, he was extremely confident in the team that will be making the trip to Valparaiso, where the Irish finished third last season.

“We’re going to give our younger runners a chance to compete, because they have trained real hard all summer,” he said.

Among the nine runners making the trip will be Loryn King, a senior who was a part of the team that ran at the NCAA meet last November.

An injury in the spring limited her opportunities to race during the track season. Connelly wanted to get her back into a race early in the season.

Joining King will be junior Ann Mazur and a slew of sophomores attempting to prove they are worthy of a spot in the top seven.

Connelly pointed out that most of these runners will be in uncharted territory this afternoon.

“We want to put them in a situation where they haven’t been before,” Connelly said. “They are used to running eight[h] position on the team, and all of a sudden, they will have to run one or two. We’ll see how they respond.”

Connelly also spoke of his group of sophomores, and the adjustments they made entering their second season.

“Some of [the sophomores] struggled last season as freshmen,” Connelly said. “We sent them home with the message that they would have to train very hard over the summer. They got the message and worked hard. Now it’s time to prove it in racing.”

All-Americans Molly Huddle, Stephanie Madia and sophomore Sunni Olding lead Notre Dame’s elite group of runners, which has undergone rigorous training early in the season.

Connelly could not say for sure who will fill out the top seven, saying the competition is wide open.

He felt later races would determine who will step into these roles.

Connelly was certain that his team was eager to begin the season and attempt to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.

When asked if his team was ready to race, Connelly responded quickly.

“They’re bouncing off the walls,” he said.