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ND Cross Country: Irish host competitive Notre Dame Invitational

Alex Wilcox | Friday, October 4, 2013

After coming out of the gate with two strong performances at the Crusader Invitational and the National Catholic Championships, Notre Dame faces its third test of the season in this weekend’s Notre Dame Invitational.

While the Irish finished well in their two opening meets, both coaches said they had expected high finishes due to subpar competition and know that this weekend will pose a much greater challenge.

“The level of competition in the first two meets relative to what we’re going to see Friday is like a whole different world,” women’s head coach Tim Connelly said. “We went in running against teams that we knew we were better than, and now all of a sudden we’re going against [teams in the top four] in the country, and some of the top ranked teams in each region.”

Connelly said he knows the competition is going to be tough and that the meet will be a good test for his unproven squad.

“Our challenge is going to be: How do we respond to great competition?” Connelly said. “That’s with every coach in every sport; they want to see how their kids are going to respond when they are challenged, so that’ll be the big question mark going into Friday, and hopefully they all believe that they’re ready to run really well.”

The No. 19 Irish women welcome seven teams ranked in the top 30 nationally and three highly-ranked teams from Division II and Division III. The No. 22 Notre Dame men will face seven nationally-ranked teams and four Division II and Division III teams.

Men’s head coach Joe Piane said he believes it will be tough for both the men and the women, and that the key to a good performance Friday is sound group running.

“We have to do the same group running, but this meet is going to be exceptionally difficult,” coach Piane said. “There are eight nationally-ranked teams. There’s 27 teams on the men’s side that are ranked within the region, and I think it’s very similar on the women’s side. This is probably the best meet in the country this weekend.”

Piane said that in a meet this strong, he is counting on his seniors to help pull the team through.

“You have to look at guys like [graduate student] Jeremy Rae who have run exceptionally well. He had a great summer; he’s been running well,” Piane said. “We’ve got to get our seniors going. [Graduate student] J.P. Malette has to run well, [senior] Martin Grady has to run well, [senior] Walter Schafer has to run well, and you’re going to see [sophomore] Michael Clevenger slip right in there and of course [junior] Jake Kildoo. Those are probably our best six.”

While the men will rely on their seniors, Connelly said the women’s squad will run some unproven faces due to injuries.

“[Sophomore] Molly Seidel’s got a sore calf so we won’t race her, [junior] Hannah Eckstein is probably two weeks away from being ready to race,” Connelly said. “We’re going to have to rely on some young people that haven’t been in that position yet but I feel pretty good about the fact that they’re kids who love to compete, so I think they’ll be ready for a big challenge.”

Every year there is always great excitement for the Notre Dame Invitational, and this year is no different, the Irish coaches said. Piane believes the level of competition is part of what makes it so important.

“It’s at home, it’s a great meet, we’re going to run against terrific competition and for the seniors, this is their last race at home, so that means a lot to them,” Piane said. “But also, we’re going to run against a lot of quality teams so you have an opportunity to get at-large points. [No. 7] Tulsa is very good, [No. 24] Virginia is very good, [No. 26] Florida State is very good, [No. 21] New Mexico is extremely good, [No. 9] Princeton is very good. There’s potential at-large points there, so you have to beat a few of these teams.”

The Irish will look to keep their hot start going at the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday beginning at 2 p.m. on the Notre Dame Golf Course.

Contact Alex Wilcox at awilcox1@nd.edu