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Men’s Track & Field: Blue and Gold meet kicks off indoor season

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coming off a successful cross country season that featured a berth at the NCAA championship meet, Irish coach Joe Piane and Notre Dame will rejoin the full complement of track and field athletes when they begin their indoor campaign Friday by hosting the Blue and Gold Meet.

The Irish enter the year with what may be their deepest team in a while, but that’s not the only thing that has Piane feeling warm about the upcoming season.

“It’s wonderful indoors because the weather’s always perfect in here,” he said. “We have the biggest indoor track in the country and, boy, we have some pretty good athletes.”

Those returning athletes are some of the nation’s best performers from last year, including several All-Americans and Big East champions. Three-quarters of last year’s All-American distance medley relay team return in senior John Shawel, junior Jeremy Rae and sophomore Patrick Feeney. Senior pole vaulter Kevin Schipper won the Big East last season. With these types of athletes, Notre Dame hopes to turn in strong performances at its two biggest meets of the season.

“Our goals always are to do well in the Big East meet, win there and then to do well at the NCAAs,” Piane said. “Those are our two biggest meets on the schedule. Now that’s not to say that we don’t care about how we do in the other meets, but our main focus is preparing for the Big East and always being in the hunt to win it and then getting people to the NCAAs.”

Last year, the Irish came up just short of that goal in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. After Connecticut edged second-place Notre Dame by less than five points at the indoor Big East championship, the Huskies won by just eight points in the spring. But with the depth he sees on the team this year, Piane believes the Irish have enough talent to close the gap and reclaim their perch on top of the conference this year.

“We definitely can [challenge UConn and win the Big East], sure,” he said. “We just had a couple of bad breaks or we would have won last year twice. We’re a very good team this year. We have good kids everywhere.”

And while the conference and national championships may be what define Notre Dame’s season, one of its most anticipated meets every year is the Meyo Invitational. The Irish host the Invitational at the Loftus Sports Center on Feb. 3 and 4, and the prestigious event brings some of the nation’s best athletes and performances to South Bend.

“Our Meyo Invitational is always very, very good,” Piane said. “We have teams from all over the country here, and probably the premier race there is the Invitational Mile. Historically, we always see somebody under four minutes. That’s where Rae ran 3:59 last year.”

Piane may have a solid idea of who his top performers will be this year, but he is also excited to see other athletes take the next step and turn in elite seasons. Their first chance to hit the track will be Friday at the Blue and Gold Meet.

“We have quite a few [athletes who may step up to lead the team this year],” Piane said. “Randall Babb is a senior for us, and he’s a very good middle-distance [runner]. [Sophomore] Logan Renwick did a very good job for us last year in the long jump and triple jump and [senior] Andy Hills will do a very good job for us, as well. We’ve got some good freshmen in as well, so we’re going to be very good from top to bottom.”

The Blue and Gold Meet takes place Friday at 5 p.m. at the Loftus Sports Center.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu