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Irish await NCAA Championships

Joe Meixell | Monday, November 20, 2006

After a year of preparation, the moment the Irish have been preparing for all year has finally arrived.

Notre Dame will compete in its final race of the season today – the NCAA Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.

Notre Dame reached the Championship race Nov. 11 after finishing second in the Great Lakes NCAA Regional race, behind only No. 1 Wisconsin. But making the race was not Notre Dame’s only goal – the Irish also want to succeed.

“If we run a really solid race, we should definitely be in the top ten in the country, which is our goal,” Irish freshman Brock Hagerman said. “It’s been what we’ve been working for all year. Anything better than top ten is just gravy.”

For Hagerman, this race is especially important because it is his first at the national level, along with fellow Irish freshman Jake Walker.

“[The NCAA Championship] is definitely the biggest, most competitive race I’ve ever been in,” Hagerman said. “It was definitely a goal coming in here – one, make the varsity team and two, help get the team to nationals.”

But Hagerman said he knows the focus today belongs on the team’s accomplishments at Terre Haute, not on his individual achievements.

“We have [senior] Kurt [Benninger] and [sophomore Patrick] Smyth up there leading the team, but then we have a pack of five guys and we’re just going to try to run together and keep that pack rolling,” Hagerman said. “We want to get our three, four and five up around the top hundred, which would give us great position to run with the top ten in the country.”

Running with Hagerman in that five-man pack will be Walker, juniors Brett Adams and Jake Watson and senior Todd Ptacek. But Notre Dame’s top two runners, Benninger and Smyth, will again lead the Irish. Along with Watson, Benninger and Smyth were named Watson to the all-Big East squad with their top-15 finish in the conference championship Oct. 27. The duo also came across the line seventh and third in the Great Lakes Regional to help get the Irish into the NCAA Championship.

“Kurt and Patrick are real special in the fact that they don’t only lead us in every race but every practice they’re out there working,” Hagerman said. “They definitely lead by example. Their consistency is going to pay off tomorrow.”

In the week between the Regional and National races, the Irish have stayed focused and ready for the final race.

“We’re just getting our reps and getting recovered [in practice],” Hagerman said. “All the work’s been done before this week. We’re ready to go – it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”

Although the entire men’s team will make the trip to Terre Haute today, only Sunni Olding will run for the Irish women. The junior received that honor because of her fifth place finish at the Regional championship.

“I’m always proud to represent Notre Dame and my teammates who work so hard every race. This is just another chance to do that,” Olding said.

Unlike most of the runners in today’s race who have teammates to run with in packs, Olding will be on her own because Notre Dame did not receive an at-large invitation to the NCAA Championship. Despite being the only Irish representative on the course, Olding’s mindset going into the NCAA Championship is the same as any other runner’s.

“You want to finish with a low score and race as fast as I can,” she said, “and now I want to finish as fast as I can, so my strategy isn’t really that different.”