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ND Cross Country: Team hopes to claim Catholic Championship

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, September 16, 2011

A hoard of 32 teams, including the Irish, will invade the Notre Dame Cross Country Course for the National Catholic Championships on Friday. A total of 823 runners will compete, but only one will cross the finish line first.

The National Catholic Championships, the brainchild of Irish men’s coach Joe Piane, enters its 32nd year of existence. The Irish men’s squad has won the race a record 21 times, including 19 of the past 24.

“It was just a brainstorm,” Piane said. “We thought it might be an interesting idea to have Catholic schools together to compete against each other.”

Senior Jordan Carlson and sophomore Martin Grady highlight an experienced group of Irish runners racing Friday. Grady finished ninth in the race a year ago. Contrasting the Crusader Invitational roster, when youth dominated the selections, the Irish will race only four freshmen out of their 21 runners.

“[The experienced runners] will have a significant impact. We’re adding a few seasoned guys,” Piane said. “We have some guys that didn’t run two weeks ago that we expect to do well.”

Still not racing, however, will be junior Jeremy Rae and senior Johnathan Shawel. During outdoor track season, Rae finished ninth at the NCAA Finals in the 1,500-meter race while Shawel ended 13th. Both are hindered by Achilles injuries.

Big East foe Marquette will once again be matched up against the Irish, posing a difficult test for Notre Dame.

“I don’t expect anything different from them,” Piane said. “Hopefully, we run a little better.”

The women’s team will also return to the National Catholic Championships to defend their crown after beating Dayton last season. The title marked Notre Dame’s eighth in the past 10 years and 17th overall.

Irish sophomore Meg Ryan won the five-kilometer race last year as a freshman with a time of 17:37. However, she will not race Friday due to a sore hip.

“We’re going to hold off on her,” Irish women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “It’s still early in the year and we have to be patient.”

Sophomore Alexa Aragon will return for the Irish after not competing in the Crusader Invitational at Valparaiso. Aragon finished the cross country season strong last year, earning 22nd place at the NCAA Regional meet and earning All-Region honors.

“She’s been training really well,” Connelly said of Aragon. “She closed out last year strong, getting better each race.”

Also racing for the Irish will be veteran runners like senior Molly Hirt, junior Rebecca Tracy and senior Rachel Velarde.

This year’s National Catholic Championships features 11 NCAA Division I institutions including Xavier, Dayton, Marquette and DePaul.

The women’s championship race begins at 4:15 p.m., while the men’s race is slated for 5 p.m.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu