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Cross Country: Irish enter Big East Championships in New York

By Vicky Jacobsen | Friday, October 26, 2012

The Irish begin the championship season Friday as both the men’s and women’s squads travel to New York with hopes of taking home a Big East title.

The conference championship will be run at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, a well-known park that serves as the home course for many New York college teams.

“It’s one of the more traditional courses. They’ve been running cross country there for 100 years,” Irish women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “So they’ve run thousands and thousands of college races and high school races there.”

Connelly said that the trails through Van Cortlandt Park will take some getting used to for Notre Dame runners who are more used to racing on grass. The women’s team will be running a 6-kilometer course, while the men’s race is 8-kilometers.

“There [are] a lot of hills. The first 2,000 meters is pretty flat, and then the rest of the course is kind of up and down,” Connelly said. “It’s more trails than grass, but the trails are kind of a crushed limestone, so it’s pretty good footing. It’s a tough course; it’s a lot different from what we run on out here. Out here most of the courses are golf courses, so they’re pretty much all grass.”

And if the hills aren’t challenging enough, Notre Dame’s Big East opponents will be sure to give the Irish a run for their money. The women’s squad is currently ranked 19th nationally, but there are four other women’s teams from the conference ranked in the top 30.

“I think there are six really good teams in the Big East,” Connelly said. “[No. 9] Georgetown is the defending NCAA champion, [No. 22] Villanova is the defending Big East champion, [No. 10] Providence is ranked in the top-10 in the country, Connecticut is really good, Syracuse is really good, so it’s going to be a really, really competitive meet.

“Our goal, obviously, is to go in there and run really well and take our shot at trying to win, but if we don’t, oh well, we could be sixth. It’s that competitive. The Big East is definitely one of the better conferences and women’s cross country is one of the Big East’s better sports, so it’s definitely competitive.”

The men’s team is in a similar position. Although the Irish fell out of the top-30 when the last rankings were released, they will also have to contend with ranked Villanova and Georgetown squads, although they did finish ahead of Providence at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational two weeks ago.

Both the men’s and women’s teams brought nine runners to New York. Seniors J.P. Malette, Jeff MacMillan, Jeremy Rae and Johnathan Shawel, juniors Martin Grady, Patrick Lesiewicz, Walter Schafer and DJ Thornton, and sophomore Jake Kildoo made the trip for the men’s team, while seniors Rebecca Tracy and Jessica Rydberg, juniors Alexa Aragon, Kelly Curran and Meg Ryan, sophomores Hannah Eckstein and Gabby Gonzales, and freshmen Danielle Aragon and Molly Seidel will represent the women’s team.

Although Connelly has two freshmen in his lineup, he said he is not concerned about how they will handle the pressure of running for a conference championship.

“To be honest I think a race like this, especially for the younger runners, is probably more of what they’re used to than a race like we ran two weeks ago at Wisconsin,” Connelly said. “Two weeks ago, there were 48 teams in the field, so they’d never experienced anything like this.

“And here there will be 15 teams, so you have a pretty good idea of who you’re racing against and which teams you’re trying to beat, while there you’re just going out and running and you’re not really sure where you’re at.”

Connelly said that he would like to see the best race of the season from each of his runners on Friday, and then have them top that performance at regionals and nationals in the next few weeks.

“We’re getting close [to our peak],” Connelly said. “We just started to add some real intense work like track work and faster stuff. This is kind of our first step in our goals for the season. We’re taking nine athletes and all nine of them are healthy and really fit, so I would hope they’re ready to run their best race of the year, and obviously that’s what it’s going to take for us to be competitive there.”

The race for the Big East men’s and women’s titles will take place in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Friday. The women’s race goes off at 11 a.m., and the men follow at 11:50 a.m.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu