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ND Track and Field: Team to compete at Big East meet

Sam Gans | Friday, February 18, 2011

Notre Dame heads to the Big East championships this weekend, with the women’s squad hoping to continue a strong performance from last year and the men’s team trying to repeat as Big East Champions.

The Irish will compete against the entire Big East at the championships, which take place in Akron, Ohio.

While a large number of athletes will compete for Notre Dame, the men’s team is specifically relying on senior Justin Schneider in the heptathlon, junior Kevin Schipper in the pole vault and sophomore Jeremy Rae in the mile to lead them to another successful conference finish. Schneider and Schipper each won the Big East in their events last season, and Rae was named Big East Male Track Athlete of the Week two weeks ago, the second week in a row he won the honor.

Irish coach Joe Piane said at least a top-three placement is within reach.

“We’re going to be pretty solid,” Piane said. “We won it last year and we’d like to repeat, but there are a lot of teams that want to win.”

On the women’s side, sophomore miler Rebecca Tracy, freshman 400-meter runner Michelle Brown, senior sprinter Natalie Johnson and senior shotputter Rudy Atang are expected to perform well for Notre Dame. Tracy set the second-fastest mile time in the NCAA on Jan. 22 at the Notre Dame Invitational.

Though the Irish will be missing some key competitors, Piane still expects the team to perform well.

“We hope to be in the top half,” Piane said. “We’ve had our fair share of injuries, so if we’re in the top half, that’d be a pretty good performance.”

The Irish were last in action two weeks ago when they hosted the Meyo Invitational. Typically, meets occur in back-to-back weeks, but the Irish took a week off before the Big East championships this year, something Piane said was done to increase rest and maximize performance.

“It wasn’t an accident that we had the week off,” Piane said. “The Meyo [is] pretty high quality, so [the break allows us to] take it easy for a few days and then have a really good week of training. It’s done by design, and I think it certainly does help us.”

The quest for the men’s and women’s conference championship begins tomorrow and continues all day Sunday.