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ND Cross Country: Irish start season with win as men take first at Valparaiso

Joe Meixell | Monday, September 11, 2006

Notre Dame started the season off right Friday as the men’s team won the Crusader Invitational at Valparaiso while the women’s team finished a strong second.

The Irish repeated their strong performance from last season with the win, especially because Notre Dame boasted the third best runner – Kevin McFadden – and no Irish runner finished outside the top 12. Notre Dame also ran one freshman and four sophomores, showing that the graduation of their top players would not hamper their efforts as much as it could have.

“We’ve won the last couple of years [at Valparaiso] so definitely anything less than the win would have been disappointing,” freshman Matt Tieuli said.

The new, young runners this season were crucial to the team’s success as they ran coach Joe Piane’s game plan of running in a pack perfectly. The only slide in running the plan was the speed goal Piane set – five minutes per mile – but the lapse in time was offset by success in running style.

“The first mile was very slow and way off our goal so our plan was pretty much shot there,” Tieuli said. “It was nice to be able to run with a pack like that. It was something I never had in high school.”

Freshman Matt Tieuli, sophomore John Daly, Jr., sophomore Dan Kuzma, sophomore Kevin Veselik and sophomore Chris Rodriguez finished consecutively in places six through 10, while junior David Bradley rounded out the Irish contingent in 12th place, only 15 seconds behind Rodriguez.

Despite the win, the Irish were still somewhat frustrated by their performance, which they hoped would have been even better than it was.

“Our times still weren’t what we wanted them to be so we still can run a little bit faster,” Tieuli said. “But we came in and ran in a nice pack and took the win, which is definitely something to build on.”

Running in a pack was definitely successful for Notre Dame as a team, however, as the latter six runners were able to keep each other motivated to finish the race strong, helping them open the season with a win.

“We stayed in a very nice pack, and one of our sophomores John Daly kept us together and Dan Bradley, our junior, kept good pace throughout the race too,” Tieuli said.

One definite positive to come out of the Crusader Invitational for the Irish Men’s team was to show the new runners’ ability to perform well against college runners. This was especially important for Tieuli since it was his first race in college, which runs a kilometer longer than high school races.

“The last kilometer of the race was the kilometer that I moved up so it was nice to know that I had a little bit of extra energy there. It was nice to be with the pack and I just hope to improve on that and get a little bit stronger in the next couple of races which are actually going to be a longer distance.”

The women’s team also finished strong in second place, but that still was not good enough for the Irish, who went into Valparaiso hoping to come out with the win.

Irish runner Julie Opet was the team leader, finishing third in the women’s race, while sophomore Heidi Rocha and freshman Beth Tacl came in sixth and seventh, respectively.

The next four Irish runners finished spread throughout the field, finishing 12th, 22nd, 23rd, and 25th.

“[Coach Tim Connelly said] we should show a lot more confidence, stick together as a team, push each other during the race,” Rocha said. “Basically he said we just need more teamwork.”

Notre Dame continues their season next weekend at home in the National Catholic Championship at Burke Memorial Golf Course.