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Cross Country: No. 2 women excel at home

Joe Lindsley | Monday, October 6, 2003

The second-ranked Irish, competing with their two top runners for the first time this season, showed their prowess as they stormed through the muddy Burke Memorial Golf Course to take first place at the 48th annual Notre Dame Invitational among a competitive field.

The Irish were led by one of their younger, though not inexperienced, runners – sophomore Molly Huddle. As was common last year, Huddle was closely followed by junior Lauren King, who took second place. The former All-Americans completed the soggy course in 17:12 and 17:24, respectively.

Irish coach Tim Connelly, who said he expected a victory, was nevertheless impressed with Notre Dame’s performance, particularly since the team was still without two of its key athletes.

“I knew we’d be really good with the first three [runners],” Connelly said. “We were actually really good with our first four. I knew [the fifth spot on the team] might be a little iffy, and it was. We didn’t have [senior] Maggie Nelson in there. We didn’t have [sophomore] Stephanie Madia.”

The performances of the top runners helped propel the Irish over Wake Forest, Penn State, Duke and Vanderbilt, who rounded out the top five in the team standings.

Junior Kerry Meagher came in third for the Irish and seventh overall. Meagher was fresh off of her first career victory, which took place at the same site two weeks ago as she surged to first place at the National Catholic Invitational.

Meagher was followed by junior Megan Johnson, who finished in 21st with a time of 18:00. Sophomore Jean Marinangeli, who was significantly behind Johnson as far as placing goes, rounded out the scoring top five for the Irish. The sophomore’s time of 18:24 put her in 42nd place.

“They’re working hard,” Connelly said. “We’ve worked really hard. Nobody really got rest in getting ready to race today. I was pleased with the way the kids ran.”

The Irish coach sees room for improvement. For example, he thought the Irish could have handled the start of the race more effectively.

“We didn’t get out very well and kind of got stuck,” he said. “Then we were zigging and zagging and chasing the whole way.”

Given the strength of the competition and the fact that it was the first race of the season for some runners, Connelly is optimistic, while acknowledging that it is still rather early in the season to make predictions.

“I think that those kids that ran five, six and seven will run a little better too,” he said. “We had four kids in there that this was their first race, but I also knew that [King] and [Huddle] were really, really fit, and that they would run really well. I was definitely pleased with them. Meagher ran awesome. And [Johnson], that was her first race in a long time. She really ran well.”

Last season, the Irish finished third at the same meet, a performance that – according to Connelly – wasn’t impressive. But by the season’s end, the Irish were third in the nation.

“A couple of the kids who ran great for us [at the National Championships] in November didn’t run very well for us here a year ago,” Connelly said. “It’s really hard to guess as to where you are.”

The Irish did not fare quite as well in the junior varsity, or Gold, race. Notre Dame finished in 10th place.

“I really thought they would be a little better than that, so I was kind of disappointed there,” Connelly said. “They got out way too hard and really paid for it later. Most of them are pretty inexperienced. They were too excited and paid for it later, but that’s what you learn.”

In two weeks, the Irish will face their toughest competition yet when they travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the Pre-National meet. Cedar Falls is also hosting the National Championships this season.