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ND Cross Country: Irish set to host National Catholic Invitational

Molly Sammon | Friday, September 18, 2009

Thirty-three cross-country teams from around the nation will travel to Notre Dame to compete against the Irish at the 30th National Catholic Invitational Friday.

“Friday will be good experience for the guys to run in a large field environment,” men’s coach Joseph Piane said.

About 230 people will run in each the men’s and women’s divisions, with the toughest competition to be expected from runners from DePaul, Xavier and Holy Cross.

As the first of two home meets and only the second meet overall this season, many of the standout members of the team will be participating for the first time this year.

“Friday’s meet will be the first race of the season for many of our runners, so we are still trying to get a better idea of what we have,” women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “Most of our top runners will be competing for the first time, although we will still hold out a couple whom we expect to be capable of being in our top group by the end of the season until we know they are completely healthy and ready to race.”

Senior Dan Clark, sophomore Molly Hirt and junior Abby Higgins will be the only runners among the top that will be sitting out this race.

For their first meet, Connelly has stressed the team’s strategy of running in groups to ensure optimal team performance.

“We will really try to focus on running together in groups and hopefully help some of the freshmen and less experienced people through the race by focusing on being with their teammates,” Connelly said.

Piane began the annual meet 30 years ago with intentions of providing an outlet for the country’s most prominent teams from Catholic institutions to be able to compete against each other.

“I thought it would be an interesting hook to get people together, a conclave of Catholics,” Piane said.

As the hosts of the annual event, Notre Dame has had great performances at the National Catholic Invitational over the years. The men’s team has won 17 out of the last 21 years, and the women have won 15 of the last 17.

In preparation for this meet, not much changed from the teams’ normal practice schedule.

“Our more experienced runners know that they won’t be very well rested or fresh going into the race, but are still expected to line up, run hard, and compete as well as they can,” Connelly said.

The meet is Friday at 4:15 p.m. on Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course.