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ND Cross Country: Squads get ready for NCAA meet

| Friday, November 16, 2012

A national title might be a long shot, but the Irish will be in the running at the NCAA championships in Louisville, Ky., this Saturday.

“There’ll be 31 teams there, and they’ll be the best 31 teams in the country,” Irish women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “Obviously there are some favorites like a [No. 1] Florida State and [No. 2] Oregon. I think our focus has to be on just going in and being as good as we can be. When you have 31 really good teams, you can’t focus on one or two teams, you’ve got to put your focus on doing the things that you need to do to run well.”

Men’s coach Joe Piane said that qualifying for the meet is so challenging that he will be pleased if his runners match the performance that earned them their spot in the championship.

“We certainly hope that the men can continue to run as well as they did at the Region meet,” Piane said. “There’s 31 teams in the race out of 310 in the country, so just getting to the meet means you’re in the top 10 percent of the whole country.”

Piane said that the course will present much less of a challenge than the teams running it.

“It’s fairly flat, but it’s loaded with turns, and it’s grass the whole way, so that’s nice,” Piane said.

But the twists and turns do mean that the Irish could find themselves boxed in if they don’t get off to a good start.

“Part of the strategy is dictated by the course, and this course tends to get narrow very quickly,” Connelly said. “It’ll kind of dictate that we get out hard and get up into the race. We pretty much ran that same race last weekend and tried to run that same race at the conference meet prior to that, so we’ll try to do what we’ve been doing and maybe just do it a little bit better.”

The men’s team will be hampered by Achilles injuries to senior Jeremy Rae and graduate student Johnathan Shawel. Shawel will not be able to run on Saturday, and Rae, who has been one of Notre Dame’s strongest runners all season, is questionable after he retired two kilometers into the 10-kilometer race at the Great Lakes Regionals meet last Friday.

The women’s team, however, stands to benefit from a season unmarred by injuries.

“The women are really healthy, and they can be as high as in the top 10 or 15 in the country,” Piane said.

Connelly agreed that his team has that sort of potential – he just needs each runner to run their best race.

“Every kid has run well at some point in the season, but every kid’s also walked away saying, ‘I can do this better and this better,’” Connelly said. “This is [their] last shot. So I think the big key for a lot of our kids is going to be to just race well and race hard for 6,000 meters.”

The race for the women’s national championship starts at noon Saturday at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., and the men’s race will follow at 1:15 p.m.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu