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ND Cross Country: Piane gives veterans a break

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, September 1, 2011

Notre Dame will open its season this weekend during the Crusader Invitational hosted by Valparaiso on Friday.

Fresh faces will lead the No. 23 Irish men’s squad in the meet. No members that ran in the NCAAs will compete in this race, Irish coach Joe Piane said.

“This is an opportunity for some kids to race at the collegiate distance,” Piane said. “I don’t want to race some of the older guys quite yet.”

Freshmen Jason Hoard and Christopher Quinn will see their first collegiate competition this weekend. A handful of upperclassmen, including sophomores Patrick Lesiewicz, Kevin Jacobs and Patrick Smith and junior Jeffrey MacMillan, will also compete.

A year ago, the Irish dominated the field in Valparaiso, finishing first with just 16 points. Notre Dame — ranked fourth in the Great Lakes region this season — placed eight runners in the top-nine last year. Piane, however, said this year will be much tougher.

“Marquette was not there last year. Now that they are, it is a significantly better meet,” Piane said. “They were right behind us in Big Easts last year. If they run their top ranked people, it could be a great meet.”

The women’s team will also return to the Crusader Invitational to defend their crown after nipping Western Michigan by one point, 26-27 at last year’s meet.

The men’s and women’s teams combined to claim each of the top 11 spots, with then-junior Gena Bleyer giving Notre Dame the victory by finishing 13 seconds before Western Michigan’s Elizaveta Boudreau.

“This meet we use to see where people are at. It will be a mix between new people and freshmen,” Irish women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “We want to win every time we go out there but we have a long, long year ahead of us.”

Senior Suzanna Sullivan, who led the Irish last year by running a 18:17.50 time in Valparaiso, returns to lead the squad along with junior Jessica Rydberg, a top runner two years ago who is back after an injury ended her 2010 campaign.

“We’re not going to over-race anyone,” Connelly said. “[The runners] benefit from lining up and competing. You’ll see some people who aren’t so experienced.”

Debuting for the Irish — ranked sixth in the Great Lakes region — will be freshmen Emily Frydrych, Gabby Gonzales, Katherine Stultz and Katie Moran.

This year’s Crusader Invitational will include Valparaiso, Marquette and Wisconsin-Green Bay on the men’s side with Western Michigan added on the women’s side.

The Irish start their season when the race begins at 6 p.m. Friday in Valparaiso, Ind.