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Cross Country: Men ease through competition

Joe Lindsley | Monday, October 6, 2003

While Eastern Michigan’s Gavin Thompson took the individual spotlight at the 48th annual Notre Dame Invitational Friday, the Irish rolled through the muddy Burke Memorial golf course to take the team title at their namesake race.

Last year at the same race, the Irish finished third on their home course behind Stanford and Michigan. The Cardinal was not present Friday, but the Irish, ranked 25th nationally, finished ahead of No. 29 Eastern Michigan, No. 12 Michigan and No. 7 Central Michigan. Michigan, with 92 points, finished second to Notre Dame’s 76 points. Eastern Michigan claimed third with 128.

Irish coach Joe Piane naturally was pleased with the victory.

“It’s the way you hoped it would go,” he said. “We had a group of four kids that really did kind of work together pretty well through the first three miles, and they need to stay together a little longer.”

The Irish, who were running with their full battery of talent for the first time this season, were led by a sophomore and a freshman. Tim Moore finished in third with his time of 24:34, and freshman Kurt Benninger, making his debut with the Irish, put himself in 12th place with his time of 24:56.

“Benninger, oh my golly – what a terrific race for a freshman,” Piane said of his team’s new asset.

Senior and former All-American Todd Mobley was third for Notre Dame and 15th overall. At the same race last year Mobley finished third, but he was plagued by an injury for much of the second half of the season and is still on the road to returning to his old form.

“Mobley will get better,” Piane said. “He’s just coming back, but he looked pretty solid today. … If we have a healthy Mobley, we’re going to be pretty good.”

Even though Mobley did not finish as well as he did last season, the Irish are currently in a much better position than they were at the same point last season, according to Piane. In fact, the coach thinks the team is “way ahead.”

“The kids all had very good summers,” Piane said. “We’re deeper than we’ve been in years. That just means the 18th guy is pushing the 17th and right on down.”

To illustrate the great improvements the Irish harriers have made, Piane cites sophomore Sean O’Donnell, who finished 20th overall and fourth for the team.

“How about O’Donnell – where was he a year ago? He’s just improved by leaps and bounds,” Piane said. “We had a lot of good performances. If you look at who was six, seven, eight and nine – we’re going to get a lot better.”

O’Donnell was followed by sophomore Kaleb Van Ort, senior Brian Kerwin and juniors Eric Morrison and Ryan Johnson.

In the Gold race for the junior varsity runners, the Irish took second place. The less experienced Irish squad was led by sophomore Vinnie Ambrico.

“Ambrico ran great in the [junior varsity] race. Slip him in [the varsity lineup], and we’ll be even better.”