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Cross Country: Both teams place in top ten at Nationals

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In the biggest race of the year, the top runners on both Notre Dame cross country teams came up with some of their best performances.

The No. 5 Irish men finished third, and the No. 4 women finished seventh at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

Senior All-American Stephanie Madia finished third in the women’s race with a six-kilometer time of 19:49, while Kurt Benninger led the men’s team with an eighth place finish and an eight-kilometer time of 29:51.

“It was just basically that the race played out really well for someone who runs like me,” Madia said. “The pack definitely strung out after we got through 3-K, [and] there were about five or six of us out in front. Individuals were passing each other all the way through the shoot.”

Madia was in fifth place with 400 meters remaining in the race but passed two runners in the race’s final stretch to earn a place on the podium.

“The girl who won the race, [Johanna] Nillson from Northern Arizona, went out strong at the 4-K mark, trying to make her move, but I was able to hang in there, and then I felt good enough to kick it in at the end,” Madia said.

The meet was the last of their collegiate careers for four seniors on each team.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve been focusing on the race during the day,” Madia said of her emotions at the end of her career. “That said, [the emotion] plays a part when you’re running. You want to leave it all out there.

“I can’t believe how quickly the time’s gone. It’s been a blessing to be at Notre Dame.”

Madia said she is leaving the program in good hands.

“I feel very confident leaving the team in the hands of the underclassmen, knowing that they’re going to get a lot better,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential with the underclassmen.”

Men’s head coach Joe Piane said his team, which finished above their national ranking coming into the meet, followed his race plan perfectly.

“It was a wonderful day. The men competed exceptionally well,” Piane said. “They did exactly what we wanted them to do, which is go out conservatively and then make a charge late. We said the first half of the race was for jockeying for position, and then the race really began.”

The third-place finish was the best for the Irish men since 1989.

Piane said the team used its disappointing 11th-place finish in 2004 as motivation for this year.

“This was our highest finish in years,” he said. “The guys have been working pretty hard. They made a commitment after this meet last year to get back here and do well.”

Benninger and seniors Tim Moore and Kaleb Van Ort earned All-American honors. Moore finished No. 31 with a time of 30:15 and Van Ort finished No. 41 with a time of 30:22.

Fifth-year senior Sean O’Donnell was the fourth runner for the Irish men, placing No. 57, only 13 seconds behind Van Ort.

Freshman Patrick Smyth was the fifth runner for the Irish, finishing strong with a time of 30:58.

“Smyth did a terrific job, especially for a freshmen,” Piane said. “He must have passed 20 people in the last two [kilometers].”

Junior Todd Ptacek and senior Vinny Ambrico rounded out Notre Dame’s seven competitors.

For the Irish women, the seventh-place finish came as a slight disappointment after the team came into the meet ranked fourth in the nation.

“If everyone had their best day, I’m sure we would have placed higher, but it’s just hard to have everyone run their absolute best all at the same time,” Madia said.

Madia’s fellow All-Americans, senior Molly Huddle and freshman Sunni Olding, earned the distinction for the second straight year. Huddle finished No. 15 overall in 20:13, and Olding took No. 24 with a time of 20:30.

Freshman Ramsey Kavan was fourth for the Irish and No. 59 overall at 20:57.

Senior Elizabeth Webster took the fifth spot for the Irish, running a personal best 21:58 and finishing No. 191. Senior Jean Marinangeli and junior Katie DeRusso were right on Webster’s tail, finishing Nos. 202 and 206, respectively.

Several Irish runners from both teams who did not compete made the trip down to cheer on their teammates.

“I totally appreciate my teammates coming down because it’s a Monday and they missed class and made sure they got their work done so they could come down and cheer us on,” Madia said. “We heard ‘Let’s go Irish’ chants the entire race.”

Wisconsin won the men’s meet, scoring an exceptionally low 37 points and beating second-place Arkansas by 68. Notre Dame was 73 points behind Arkansas at 178.

On the women’s side, Stanford took the meet title with 146 points, besting second place Colorado by 35. The Irish finished with a team total of 252.