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Cross-Country: Squads head to regionals

Laura Myers | Friday, November 14, 2008

The men’s and women’s teams have one more challenge to face as the postseason begins, but they hope it will lead to an even bigger one.

The two squads will run in the Great Lakes Regional at Purdue University Saturday. The race is one of nine Div. I regionals taking place Saturday, and each will yield competitors for the NCAA Championship on Nov. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind.

The top two teams in the region receive an automatic berth to the Championships, while teams that place third or fourth may receive an at-large bid.

Men’s head coach Joe Piane is confident that his team can make it to Terre Haute.

“I think we’d advance as long as we’re in the top three or four, because of how we’ve run this season,” he said.

The No. 27 Irish men have had a successful season, which was capped Oct. 31 with a second-place finish at the Big East championships in New York City. Senior Patrick Smyth finished second in that race and was one of three to earn all-conference honors, along with junior Jake Walker and freshman Joe Miller.

In 2007, Smyth finished first at the Great Lakes Regional, and he has consistently led the Irish this year. Piane said a repeat performance could be possible.

“He’s very capable,” Piane said. “Let’s put it this way – he’s going to be one of the contenders for the title.”

The team will be challenged by No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 9 Michigan, who finished first and second in the Big Ten, and Eastern Michigan, who won the Mid-American Conference Title.

Women’s head coach Tim Connolly said his team also hopes to make the championship meet.

“Realistically, if we are in the top four, we’ve got a shot,” he said.

The women finished sixth at the Big East championships, and were paced by junior Lindsay Ferguson, who finished 14th and earned all-conference honors.

Only four individuals per region who are not on a qualifying team can earn at-large bids to the championships, which makes it very difficult, Connolly said. He said, however, they are not focusing on individuals.

“[Ferguson] does have a very good chance to qualify,” he said. “But we want to qualify as a team.”

The women face their biggest challenges from No. 10 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan.

The women’s race is set to start at 11:00 a.m., and the men will follow at 11:45.