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ND Cross Country: Irish men, women take third in Big East meet

Dan Murphy | Monday, October 30, 2006

Notre Dame’s men and women had the same result in Friday’s Big East meet, but with two very different reactions.

Both teams finished third in the conference championship, with the No. 12 men’s team finishing behind No. 20 Providence and No. 16 Georgetown while the women also finished behind the No. 12 Friars and No. 18 Hoyas.

The third place finish was especially uplifting for the women, who had experienced back-to-back disappointing races in the Notre Dame Invitational and the Pre-National Meet.

“I was very proud of our team’s performance,” juinior Sunni Olding said. “We had our two seniors, I felt, really stepped it up. It was definitely a confidence builder going into Regionals.”

Olding finished in the top 10 for the second straight year, leading the Irish across the line in sixth place (21:00).

“I wasn’t disappointed with my performance but I wasn’t ecstatic either,” she said. “Basically I was going for the least amount of points possible to help the team because we were looking for a great team finish.

“I hoped to improve upon my finish from last year and I wasn’t able to do that, so that was a bit of a disappointment.”

But Olding could not have earned the third place finished on her own, and was backed up incredibly well by Notre Dame’s senior pair of Ann Mazur and Amy Kohlmeier. Mazur and Kohlmeier ran well together throughout the race, finishing only seconds apart as Mazur placed 12th (21:27) and Kohlmeier crossed the line 14th (21:31).

“Both of them probably had the best race of their careers,” Olding said. “I just really think that’s a reflection of their determination and hard work and how much they really were dedicated to the team and wanted to do really well.”

By finishing in the top 15, Olding, Mazur and Kohlmeier earned All-Big East honors, making this the fifth consecutive year the Irish have had three runners earn all-conference honors.

Rounding out Notre Dame’s scoring runners were freshman Lindsey Ferguson (27th, 21:51) and junior Julie Opet (28th, 21:58).

The Irish hope to use this strong finish in the coming meets, with the Great Lakes Regional Meet approaching on Nov. 11. Notre Dame needs a top-two finish in the regional race to get an automatic bid to the national race, and Olding feels this win could help propel them to that finish.

“It made us really excited and we look forward to competing [in the Great Lakes Regionals],” she said. “We definitely have to be on top of our game in order to be better prepared for the regional meet, but I think this is a big step in the right direction for us.”

Despite also finishing third, the Irish men were not quite as happy with their result.

“We definitely didn’t have our best day ever,” sophomore Patrick Smyth said. “I think we can get a lot of it taken care of by nationals. So we are happy, but definitely a little disappointed.”

Despite the disappointing team finish, senior Kurt Benninger (23:31) and Smyth (23:32) had nothing to complain about, finishing second and third, respectively.

“Kurt and I were pretty happy with our finish,” Smyth said. “Martin Fagan [of Providence] ran away with the race and we just fought it out for the two and three spots.”

Next crossing the line for Notre Dame was junior Jake Watson, who finished ninth with a final time of 23:54, just ahead of Friar junior Ahmed Haji.

The finish earned Watson, along with Benninger and Smyth, all-Big East honors – the first for him, Smyth’s second and Benninger’s third. This accolade has helped cap off a very productive season so far for Watson, who led the team to victory in the National Catholic Championship and breaking personal records at the Notre Dame Invitational and Pre-National Meet.

“Jake’s doing an awesome job for us,” Smyth said. “He’s been incredibly consistent, performing well time and again. Hopefully he can keep doing that for the next two races.”

The last two Irish scorers were Notre Dame’s top freshmen – Brock Hagerman (23rd, 24:22) and Jake Walker (33rd, 24:34). Hagerman’s time was best among rookies competing in the meet.

“I don’t think we can ask a whole lot more of [Hagerman and Walker],” Smyth said. “Brock had a great race. Jake Walker a little tired after a hard week of training and then the race. I think they’ll both be alright by the next meet.”

The race was the final tune-up for Notre Dame going into the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet Nov. 11. Even with the disappointing finish in the Big East championship, Smyth still thinks they have a shot at finishing near the top of the regional race.

“I think we can use this as motivation. We need to perform better come race time and really concentrate on what we need to be and what we need to do to finish in the top two at Regionals and get the automatic bid to nationals.”