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ND Cross Country: NCAA bids on the line at Great Lakes Regional

Chris Doyen | Friday, November 9, 2007

The Notre Dame men and women will try to secure spots in the NCAA Championships with strong performances Saturday at the Great Lakes Regional Meet in Bloomington, Ind.

For the men, who captured fourth in the Big East meet, junior Patrick Smyth and senior Jake Watson will look to follow up their all-Big East performances from two weeks ago.

In last year’s regional meet, Smyth finished eighth overall, while Watson placed 40th on the individual leaderboard. Smyth has run at the front of the pack all year long, and he will lead the Irish again this weekend against some stiff competition.

Aside from No. 22 Notre Dame, three ranked teams will compete in the meet: No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 23 Michigan and No. 30 Ohio State.

Wisconsin has dominated this event since regional meets began in 1972. The Badgers won their sixth straight Great Lakes title and their 22nd overall last year. They have qualified for the NCAA Championships in all 35 years the regional meets have been held.

Either Irish team can guarantee itself a spot in the NCAA field with a top-two finish on Saturday. The first two finishers from each region automatically qualify, and 13 at-large bids are distributed after the regional meets.

Head coach Joe Piane stressed the need to grab one of those two positions.

“It’s phenomenally important,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve run 10 kilometers all year, but it’s what we’ve been training for. If you don’t run well in this competition, then there is no NCAAs.”

Last year, the Irish men did just that, finishing second in a 31-team field to lock up an automatic bid for the seventh time in eight seasons. They will attempt to make it eight out of nine on Saturday, employing a little bit of strategy along the way.

“We’re going to run relatively conservative early,” said Piane. “And we’ll try to make sure we can close well in the last 2 kilometers.”

On the women’s side, freshman Marissa Treece and sophomore Lindsey Ferguson will lead the way. Ferguson is coming off her all-Big East performance in Notre Dame’s sixth-place finish two weeks ago.

The women’s region also boasts some top-level teams: No. 8 Michigan State, No. 9 Michigan and No. 23 Wisconsin.

Last year, the Irish women placed fifth out of 30 teams and did not receive a bid to the NCAA Championships.

Both the men’s 10k and women’s 6k races will take place on Indiana University’s rolling, wooded golf course. The men’s race is set to begin at 10 a.m., while the women will take off at 11:15.