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CROSS COUNTRY: Irish travel to Terre Haute for Pre-Nationals

Chris Khorey | Friday, October 14, 2005

After two straight meets on the friendly confines of Burke Memorial Golf Course, the Notre Dame cross country teams will travel to Terre Haute, Ind. Saturday for the Pre-National Meet hosted by Indiana State.

The meet will feature several elite teams from around the country, including defending men’s and women’s NCAA champion Colorado. The Buffaloes are currently ranked third on the men’s side and 11th on the women’s.

Just as important, the Irish will be running for the first time this season at the LaVern Gibson Course in Terre Haute, the home of this year’s NCAA Championships.

“It’s got a great field, but it’s also the same location as the NCAAs,” Irish men’s head coach Joe Piane said. “It’s an opportunity for teams from around the country to race on the course where the NCAAs will be held. When you play football, it’s going to be a hundred yards, when you play basketball, it’s 10-foot baskets, but every cross country course is different”

Doing well in the Pre-Nationals is also important for at-large bids to the NCAAs.

“Last year there wasn’t an at large team in the country that qualified for the NCAAs that didn’t run at the pre-national meet,” Piane said. “Hopefully both of our teams will qualify [for the NCAAs] without needing an at-large bid, but still this weekend it is very important for us to beat a few teams. Then we have the Big East meet, and we need to get at- large points at our own Big East meet. The next two meets are very important.”

The No. 7 Irish men will send a lineup featuring every returning runner from last year’s NCAA meet out for the first time this season. Junior Kurt Benninger and seniors Tim Moore and Sean O’Donell will lead the way, as they have throughout their careers. Senior Kaleb Van Ort, junior Todd Ptacek, sophomore Dan Curran, and freshman Patrick Smyth will round out the Irish line up.

Van Ort, who last year ran with Benninger, Moore and O’Donell in most meets, will be seeing his first action this season after returning from a stress fracture.

“It’s going to be a new experience for Kaleb, but if he can run with Dan Curran, Patrick Smyth and Todd Ptacek, we’ll be fine,” Piane said. “We beat a lot of people without him, so hopefully we’ll have a good chance to beat some people with him.”

Smyth, who has been a pleasant surprise to Piane with his strong running this year, will race in the most important meet of his young career.

“He’s tenacious competitor,” Piane said. “He’s a very quiet kid, but he competes very hard.”

For the No. 8 Irish women, the blazing fast top four that all finished in the top 15 of the Notre Dame Invitational – senior All-American Stephane Madia, senior two-time All-American Molly Huddle, National Catholic Champion Sunni Olding and promising freshman Ramsey Kavan – will all be in the lineup for the Pre-Nationals.

The issue for the Irish remains finding a fifth runner who will be closer to the top four than the 68th place finish Jean Marinangeli ended up with at the Notre Dame Invitational. Senior Elizabeth Webster, junior Kaite DeRusso and Marinangeli will all try to close the gap with the top four and become the fifth runner the Irish need to compete for the national championship.

All the Irish upperclassman have run at the Gibson Course before, as Indiana State hosted the Pre-Nationals and NCAAs last year. The meet will return to Terre Haute again in 2006 and then will move to another location in 2007.