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Track: Irish prepare for last chance to qualify for championships

Brian Hartnett | Friday, April 27, 2012

With the Big East outdoor championships set to begin next weekend, Notre Dame will look to make its final preparations toward its goal of a conference title at a pair of relays this weekend. Several team members will travel to Hillsdale, Mich., to compete in the Hillsdale Gina Relays, while select Irish relay teams and athletes will journey to Des Moines, Iowa, to participate in the famed Drake Relays.

Notre Dame will send a large contingent of runners, throwers and jumpers to Hillsdale, a meet featuring hundreds of competitors ranging from the Division I level to NAIA teams. Although the Irish have set the majority of their squad for the Big East meet, Irish coach Joe Piane said good performances at the Hillsdale Gina Relays will allow some team members to punch their ticket to Tampa for the conference championships.

“[The Hillsdale Gina Relays] is going to help some kids ensure a spot at the Big East,” Piane said. “It will also help some [team members] who have qualified and may need to run a little bit better in order to ensure an opportunity to go to the Big East.”

Piane said he is looking forward to watching sophomore sprinter Jarrod Buchanon compete in the 400-meter hurdles and observing several long-distance runners, particularly sophomore Meg Ryan in the 1,500-meter event and senior Susanna Sullivan in the 5,000-meter race.

A significant component of Notre Dame’s competitors at Hillsdale will be the Irish field team, a crucial part of the recipe for capturing a Big East title. The Irish will send their entire squad of throwers to Hillsdale and will have multiple entries in the pole vault, long jump and hammer throw, among other field events. This team helped contribute to Notre Dame’s eight victories at the Polytan Invitational in Bloomington, Ind., last week, as senior pole-vaulter Kevin Schipper and freshman jumper Keith Mesidor won the pole vault and long jump events, respectively, for the men. On the women’s side, sophomore jumper Kelly Burke took home a victory in the triple jump.

Meanwhile, several Irish relay teams will participate in their final tune-ups for the Big East meet against tough competition in Des Moines. The men’s 4×100-meter, 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relay teams will all race, while the women’s 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relay teams will also compete in the relays. Although the relay teams haven’t competed often in the outdoor season, the progress of the individual members on the relay teams gives the Irish much confidence, Piane said.

“To be candid, we haven’t run the men’s or women’s 4×800 [relays] since the indoor season, so it’s really up to how each of the individuals have progressed,” Piane said. “They’ve done a very good job – this is the best women’s 4×800 team we’ve had in probably forever, and the men feel very confident they can run roughly 1:50 a man [in the 4×800-meter relay].”

In addition to the relay teams, several of Notre Dame’s top athletes will compete at Drake, including Schipper in the pole vault, senior multi-event athlete Maddie Buttinger in the long jump and sophomore jumper Logan Renwick in the triple jump.

As the regular outdoor season winds to a close for the Irish, Piane said the Irish are committed to their goal of winning a conference title.

“That’s always the goal for both genders,” Piane said on winning the Big East championships. “The women need to improve vastly on what they did indoors, and the men will face their biggest competition from Connecticut, who is very good.”

The Irish commence competition at the Drake Relays and the Hillsdale Gina Relays today, and both meets conclude Saturday.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu