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Men’s Cross Country: Irish hope to perform up to expectations

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Notre Dame has some big shoes to fill.

Entering the season with high expectations, the Irish will have to fill holes left by Vinny Ambrico, Tim Moore, Sean O’Donnell and Kaleb Van Ort – all of whom competed in the 2005 NCAA Championship – with a combination of new freshmen and returning players waiting for their chance.

Although the Irish did lose experience after last season, they still maintain a hearty talent pool, including last year’s top runner Kurt Benninger, who placed second at the Great Lakes Regional and eighth overall at the NCAAs. Notre Dame will also need their current No. 2 runner, sophomore Patrick Smyth, to step up and cement the top of their team.

Smyth had flashes of brilliance last season, including a top finish at the National Catholic Invitational and ninth place at the Big East finals. But he was not always so dominant, finishing 34th or higher in three of his other four races.

Among the freshmen looking to make an immediate impact on this year’s team is Brock Hagerman, who last year was the Indiana state champion.

“Right now my goal is just to make varsity, be one of those top seven guys who gets to run at the end,” he said. “But like Coach [Piane] says, every time you put on the jersey it’s a big meet, so right now I’m looking forward to running at the National Catholic Championship next week.”

The National Catholic Championship is one of two regular season races held at Notre Dame’s Burke Memorial Golf Course, giving the Irish a big advantage for the rest of their season.

“It’s nice to run on our home course,” Hagerman said. “Being at home is a better atmosphere, and it’s a lot easier to run in front of a home crowd there for you.”

This year’s team also has the added pressure of maintaining their national prominence last season.

They finished in the top three of every race last season, including a second place finish at Regionals and third place at Nationals.

This strong performance led to a No. 5 final ranking for the Irish, something they hope to maintain.

“I’d say we look to do well in the Big East and then in the regional tournament,” junior James Millar said. “We also want to be in the top ten teams at nationals again.”

In order to reach this goal, the Irish have to continue their summer workout plan to be able to run well in their meets.

Notre Dame’s summer plan, including their new freshmen, included both straight distance and time trials that built up slowly over the summer, culminating at about 70-80 miles per week currently.

“The goal was to start low and build up every week,” Hagerman said. “We wanted to be in shape, but not necessarily at our top fitness level.”

The system seems to be working, according to Millar.

“The team looks sharp right now,” he said. “We really feel good about our fitness for this season.”

Notre Dame begins its season Friday with the Valparaiso Invitational. After the following week’s National Catholic Championship, the team returns to action Sept. 29 with the Notre Dame Invitational.