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ND Cross Country: Irish to race at NCAAs

Alex Wilcox | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Looking to build off the success the team sustained at last week’s Great Lakes Regional championships, the Irish wrap up their season at this weekend’s NCAA championships in Terre Haut, Ind.

Men’s coach Joe Piane said the regional meet was his team’s best performance of the season. The men came in third overall thanks to two top-10 finishes by graduate student Jeremy Rae and senior Martin Grady, and the women took fourth behind senior Kelly Curran’s third-place finish.

“The goal every year is to get to the NCAAs and the objective at that meet is to do whatever it takes to get qualified, and we did that,” Piane said.

Only the top two teams receive the automatic bid to the NCAA championships, but both the men and the women’s teams qualified for an at-large bid. While this was no guarantee, women’s head coach Tim Connelly said that his girls expected to qualify.

“I don’t know that [the girls were] happy because they expected it,” Connelly said. “We’ve gotten to the point – and it’s like that at every sport here – where the expectation is you’re going to the NCAA meet. Some teams put it on their schedule hoping to get there, and teams like us put it on the schedule expecting to be there.”

Connelly has his lineup set with Curran, senior Alexa Aragon, juniors Gabby Gonzalez, Emily Frydrych and Hannah Eckstein, and sophomores Molly Seidel and Sydni Meunier. Running on the men’s side are Rae, Grady, graduate student J.P. Malette, junior Jake Kildoo and sophomore Michael Clevenger, but Piane said he is still deciding between seniors Pat Lesiewicz, Walter Schafer and sophomore Tim Ball for the final two spots.

Regardless of who runs on Saturday, Piane has high expectations for his team. He wants a top-15 performance from his team and believes Rae and Grady have the potential to be named All-Americans.

“They know now that they can do it,” Piane said. “What would be equivalent to being third at regionals would be maybe top-15 [at NCAAs] and that would be a great performance. There’s over 310 Division I cross-country teams, to get [to NCAAs] you have to be in the top 10 percent. Now we’re talking about being in the top half of that elite group, the top five percent of all Division I cross-country teams. That’s pretty good.”

While Piane was very pleased with the men’s performance, Connelly said the women will need to continue to improve in order to be successful in their final meet of the season.

“We have to do a better job of running together and tightening up from two to four,” Connelly said. “[Curran] had a great race and she’s been racing that way most of the year, so she expects to go into nationals and run just as well. Where we need to improve is two, three, four and five. We need to have a tight group. Friday things were spread out and we weren’t quite as strong as we expected to be.”

In addition to pointing out improvements his squad needs to make, Connelly also laid out the training plan for the week.

“We want to make sure they’re sharp and fresh,” Connelly said. “We’ll leave [Wednesday night], we’ll run [Thursday], jog the course on Friday and then race on Saturday. We’re trying to keep it the same as the rest of the season. When you go into any big championship meet, the more normal you can make it, the better.”

After what Connelly described as a roller-coaster season filled with subpar performances and a myriad of injuries, he is thankful the team gets one more shot to pull everything together and right the ship.

“You’re going somewhere and you look on a map, and you get in the car and you decide you’re going to use the GPS, and somehow you get there, even if it wasn’t the way you expected to get there on the map,” Connelly said. “That’s how this season’s been for us. We’re there, so we’ve got one more opportunity.”

The Irish will conclude their 2013 season at the NCAA championships on Saturday at noon and 1:15 p.m. at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terra Haute, Indiana.


Contact Alex Wilcox at awilcox1@nd.edu