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Irish runners get opportunities

Joe Lindsley | Friday, September 5, 2003

Notre Dame has the capacity to easily take first place at Saturday’s Valparaiso Invitational. Instead the top ten Irish runners will sit out the season’s first race, as they continue their training regimen and give freshmen and others the opportunity to compete and, they hope, to realize the fruits of summer training.

“This race is good because it helps everyone gain some experience, especially the younger guys who haven’t been able to experience a collegiate race before,” sophomore Tom Longo said.

Longo will be among the runners temporarily moving up to the varsity level for Saturday’s contest.

Having only lost one senior to graduation, and returning a healthier group complemented by a key freshman recruit, the Irish are looking forward to what they expect to be an improvement of last season.

Last year, Notre Dame finished 22nd at the NCAA Championships after barely qualifying. This year, the Irish have set as their goal a top 10 finish at the National Championship meet.

Sophomore Tim Moore, the team’s top runner at the Big East and National Championships last season, has noticed a change in overall attitude among the Irish harriers.

“We definitely think that [our] goal is realistic after being here with the guys for the first two weeks,” Moore said. “Everyone’s in better physical shape compared to last year. It seems like the mental attitude is more positive. Guys are working together more. It seems like we’re ready to succeed. We don’t really have any apprehension or nervousness about the upcoming year, which is always a good thing.”

Last fall, former All-American Todd Mobley, now a senior, was supposed to be the team’s leader and top runner, but because of leg injuries that plagued him most of the season, Mobley’s involvement in several races was limited. With their top runner and leader injured, the Irish morale began to suffer, and that struggling was expressed on the course.

The team expects the situation to be different this season.

“Last year, [Mobley] was planning on being the leader, and he got injured, so we didn’t have a real leader on the team,” Moore said. “Last year we were only one season removed from having big guys like [All-Americans] Ryan Shay and Luke Watson around to lead us and show us how it’s done. We were just inexperienced and not really confident.”

Additionally, with Mobley now healthy, the Irish are expecting to be aided by the services of freshman Kurt Benninger, who was a silver medalist this summer at the Pan-Am Junior Games in the 1500 meters.

“I expect a lot from [Benninger],” Moore said. “He is smart as far as how he trains. A lot of freshmen come here, and they want to work hard every day. He will pace himself. I think he’ll fit in nicely.”

For this weekend, though, the Irish will be focused on their less experienced runners, who are looking to prove that this season’s team has a good amount of depth to their squad, in the event any injuries arise.