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Irish eager to win Big Easts

Mike Gilloon | Wednesday, April 28, 2004

One has done it before. The other has come close. Neither will be content if they don’t do it this weekend. The men’s and women’s track teams are on a quest for a conference title. The Irish men enter this weekend’s Big East Outdoor Championships at Rutgers as the defending champions, while the women are vying for their first outdoor title after finishing second the past two seasons.Godwin Mbagwu was the hero of last year’s men’s meet as he triple-jumped 15.32 meters in the final event to give Notre Dame a 139-136.5 victory over Connecticut. Mbagwu is one of two defending individual champions for the Irish as Selim Nurudeen will try to defend his title in the 110-meter hurdles.Head coach Joe Piane feels this year’s meet is wide open. Besides Notre Dame, Piane believes Rutgers, Connecticut, Georgetown, Villanova and Pittsburgh all have a chance to win the title.”It should be a pretty good battle,” he said.After a close loss to Connecticut at the Big East Indoor Championships earlier this year, the Irish men are hungry to win a title.”It will definitely be difficult to win, but since we have a little different lineup outdoors I think we have a better chance,” said distance runner Austin Weaver.The women’s team will try to get a monkey off their back as they have finished second two years in a row to Miami. Molly Huddle is the only Irish defending champion, winning the 5,000-meters in last year’s meet.Huddle will spearhead the Irish efforts along with fellow distance runner Lauren King. King finished a close second in last year’s conference 1,500 meters to Georgetown’s Treniere Clement.Piane believes the women’s title is also anybody’s to win as Miami, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Villanova and Notre Dame are all in the hunt. Though these teams have a chance, Miami is the favorite as the Hurricanes are vying for their fourth straight title and sixth in the past seven years.”It will be hard to beat Miami, but that is our goal,” Piane said. “We might have a better overall team than they do but they are just loaded in the sprints and jumps.”The Irish are willing to do whatever it takes to win the conference championship. Huddle is not only racing in the 5,000 meters but she will run in the 1,500 meters as well. “Our distance crew is smaller than usual this year so we have to focus on getting quality out of all of us,” Huddle said.Huddle admitted the 1,500 meters would not be an easy race to win as it includes national collegiate record holder Kim Smith of Princeton. When asked about what it would mean to finally beat Miami and win the school’s first women’s outdoor title, Huddle’s voice perked up.”That would be awesome,” she said. “We’re always trying to beat them and it would be especially nice since they’re leaving the Big East after this year.”