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ND Cross Country: Notre Dame to race at Great Lakes Regional

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, November 10, 2011

After a two-week break following the Big East Championships, Notre Dame will return to the course for this weekend’s NCAA Great Lakes Regional.

The Great Lakes Regional, a precursor to the NCAA Championships, features schools from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin with the top two teams on both the men’s and women’s sides advancing to the national meet. The remaining teams will hope for one of the NCAA’s 13 at-large bids to the championship meet.

The Irish men will search for its first Great Lakes Regional victory since 2001, while the women will aim to take their second in three years.

Sophomore Martin Grady has paced the Irish this year, culminating with an All-Big East performance at the Big East Championships on Oct. 29. Junior Jeremy Rae also earned All-Big East honors in the race. Despite 10th and 12th place finishes from Grady and Rae, respectively, the Irish placed sixth in the conference meet.

“It would be pretty tough to upset Wisconsin or Indiana because they’re two of the more established teams,” Grady said. “It’s going to be a big meet between us, Michigan and Ohio State. If we finish third or fourth, we’ll basically be locked in for nationals.”

Seniors Jordan Carlson, Kelly Lynch and Joe Miller, junior J.P. Malette and sophomores Walter Schafer and DJ Thornton are expected to join Grady and Rae.

“If five guys have a good race, we can finish in the top four,” Grady said. “If [Rae] and I can establish ourselves in the top group, it’ll be huge for our team.”

Notre Dame — the No. 5-ranked team in the region — will be met by stiff competition in Toledo, Ohio. Four ranked teams, including top-ranked Wisconsin and No. 7 Indiana, sit ahead of the Irish in the rankings.

“The competition in the previous races will definitely help us for this meet,” Grady said.

The No. 24 Irish women’s squad, ranked third in the Great Lakes Region, is anchored by junior Jessica Rydberg. She has led the team in every race in which she has participated.

“We have a really good chance to win it if we race well,” Rydberg said.

Notre Dame finished sixth last time in the Big East Championships, while Rydberg finished 18th, narrowly missing All-Big East honors. She said she has her goals set higher this time around.

“I want to place in the top five,” Rydberg said. “But most importantly, I want to run to my full potential to help the team.”

Seniors Molly Hirt and Rachel Velarde, junior Rebecca Tracy, sophomores Alexa Aragon, Kelly Curran and McKinzie Schulz and freshman Gabby Gonzales will join Rydberg at the meet.

“We need to find each other early in the race and run as a pack,” Rydberg said.

The Irish will meet two other ranked opponents at the meet — No. 12 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan. But this field, compared to those at the Notre Dame Invitational and the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, seems tame. The Notre Dame Invitational featured six ranked women’s teams, while the Wisconsin adidas Invitational featured 18.

“This meet will probably be less competitive than [the] Big East [Championships] or [the] Wisconsin [adidas Invitational],” Rydberg said. “It will be a lot easier to find each other with a smaller field.”

Rydberg said the smaller field and lesser competition have the Irish feeling good about this weekend.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Rydberg said. “Our workouts have been going well and we’ve been running well as a pack in practice.”

The men’s 10-kilometer race begins at 12 p.m. Saturday, while the women’s six-kilometer race starts at 1:15 p.m. Both races will take place in Toledo, Ohio.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu