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ND Cross Country: Irish host Invitational through cold

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, October 3, 2011

With a storm of ranked teams converging in South Bend for the Notre Dame Invitational, the Irish had to deal with talented opponents — and the weather. Facing temperatures in the 40s and winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, the Notre Dame women placed fifth while the men finished 11th.

“The biggest impact was probably the soft course that slowed down times,” Irish women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “We’ll be running into November so this was just a taste of the weather to come. Everyone else ran in it, too.”

For the third consecutive race, junior Jessica Rydberg led the Irish. She ran the five-kilometer course in 17:33, good enough for 25th place in the blue race, the more competitive of the two different divisions.

“I think she still a ways from being sharp and on top of her game,” Connelly said. “She didn’t get out very well but she kept her head up and continued working her way through the field. She did a nice job of not panicking.”

Senior Susanna Sullivan and sophomore Alexa Aragon followed Rydberg, placing 29th and 32nd, respectively. Sophomore Kelly Curran and junior Rebecca Tracy each finished the course in less than 18 minutes and scored points for the Irish.

“It was a good team effort and we competed well,” Connelly said. “If we’re going to be great, we have to get everybody off the line better.”

Florida State and its three top 10 finishers won the race while Arkansas-Fayetteville, New Mexico and Penn State also bested the Irish. Notre Dame did, however, top two ranked teams — Princeton and Brigham Young.

“By the end of the year, we’ll look back and see how good it was. There were two top-10 teams and potentially four or five other teams that will be NCAA qualifying teams,” Connelly said. “It was a good step forward to figure out that we can compete with this caliber of competition.”

Southern Methodist’s Silje Fjortoft won the race, clocking in at 16:54.

The men’s squad finished eleventh, with junior J.P. Malette completing the five-mile Blue race in 41st position. He clocked in at 24:51. Sophomore Martin Grady was the only other Notre Dame runner to finish just four seconds shy of the 25-minute mark.

“We needed to be much better than that,” Irish men’s coach Joe Piane said. “We did not compete up to our capabilities.”

Junior Jeremy Rae, a NCAA track All-American last year, made his season debut for the Irish, finishing 73rd in 25:11.

“That is far from what he should be doing,” Piane said. “He’s coming off an injury but it was not a great race.”

Brigham Young’s Miles Batty won the race, finishing in 23:59. Batty’s finish helped propel the Cougars to the team title. Two other runners from Brigham Young made top 10 times. Florida State finished second while Princeton came in third. The Irish defeated No. 25 Ohio State, who finished 12th.

“The competition was great, tremendous. It was probably the best meet in the country this weekend,” Piane said. “I think they will be a little bit more convinced to be more aggressive [after facing this competition].”

Six runners also ran for Notre Dame in the less prominent Gold race. Senior Zac Suriano paced the Irish, running the course in 25:41. Notre Dame finished the Gold division race in seventh place.

Both the men’s and women’s teams return to the course for the Wisconsin Invitational in Madison, Wis. on Oct. 14.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu