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TRACK AND FIELD: Big East tournament culminates season for ND squad

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, February 16, 2007

Notre Dame has focused the entire season for this weekend’s Big East tournament in Akron, Ohio, and now that it has finally arrived, Irish coach Joe Piane has one goal in mind.

“We’re going there to try to win in both the women’s side and men’s side,” he said.

The Irish will send 31 men and 22 women to compete in the conference championship.

The middle distance runners, led by senior all-American Thomas Chamney – the No. 1 seed in the 800-meter and 1,000-meter races – anchor Notre Dame’s male contingent. On Feb. 3 at the Meyo Invitational, Chamney cemented his place atop the Big East by running the 800 in 1:47.82, the second fastest time in school history.

Notre Dame’s sprinters and distance runners are also strong. Four Irish runners rank in the top eight in the conference in the 400 – seniors Ryan Postel and Jordan Powell, junior Austin Wechter and freshman Balazs Molnar. Postel ranks first in the Big East in the 400 and also qualified for the 200.

Leading the distance team is junior Jake Watson, who won the mile at the Meyo Invitational in 4:00.71 to provisionally qualify him for the NCAA Tournament in addition to the Big East. Sophomore Patrick Smyth will run the 5,000 after running the Big East’s third-best time at 13:58.10.

“We have a pretty broad based track team on [the men’s and women’s] sides,” Piane said. “We’re going to have good people everywhere. And it’s the same on the men’s side. We’re not a one-dimensional team.”

Piane also feels that he is sending a very well-balanced team on the women’s side of the Big East championship.

Heading the Irish effort will be the sprint team, including senior Maryann Erigha, who double qualified in the 60 and 200 meters.

The Irish distance squad is paced by senior Amy Kohlmeier and freshman Lindsey Ferguson, both of whom could run in the mile or 3,000. Kohlmeier will also run in the 5,000-meter event.

In the field events, the Irish will be best represented in the jumps. Senior Cassie Gullickson will lead the jumpers as the No. 2 high jumper and No. 4 triple jumper. Notre Dame is also sending sophomore pole vaulters Mary Saxer and Kate Mattoon, who have matching season-highs of 12-feet-5.5-inches. Sophomore Anna Weber will man the throws, competing in both the shot put and weight throw.

Even though Piane is confident in his team’s ability, he recognizes the challenges facing his team in the difficult Big East. On the men’s side, Piane expects the most trouble out of Louisville. The Cardinals’ strength is one area where the Irish are not as deep – jumps.

“Louisville has some of the best long jumpers and triple jumpers in the country and they are going to score major points in those two events,” he said. “Their squad probably isn’t as deep as ours in some areas, but in others – i.e. the long, triple – they’re as good as anybody in the country.”

On the women’s side, Piane sees Connecticut as the biggest threat to his team’s success.

“They’ve got some pretty good sprinters and they are developing the distance program, but they have a lot of very good field event kids,” he said of the Huskies. “It’ll be interesting to say the least.”