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Season opens at rival Valparaiso

Steve Coyer | Friday, September 10, 2004

After months of training this summer, the Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will open the season on familiar ground.Both teams will compete today at the Valparaiso University Crusader Invita-tional where the Irish turned in impressive performances last year. The women’s team won the 2003 Crusader Invitational with the men’s team coming in second overall.Ranked fourth in a preseason poll, the Irish women have a positive outlook and high expectations with the majority of their team returning. A 10th-place finish in the NCAA championship last year only adds to the team’s high expectations coming into 2004.”We return most our team of our team from last year that finished 10th in the NCAA’s,” women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “The expectations are to be a minimum top-10 team if not better.” At the Crusader Invitational, the Irish women should face a tough challenge from Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of several teams at the tournament who qualified for the 2003 NCAA championship meet. Also, Connelly has decided to give less-experienced runners a chance to compete so the Irish will not have their top eight runners in the race.Two key runners who will be absent from the race include senior Lauren King and junior Molly Huddle. King has captured All-American honors three years in row while Huddle finished seventh at the United States Olympic Trials. Instead, sophomores Katie DeRusso, Jennifer Richard and Brianne Schmidt along with freshmen Kathleen Coverick and Alyson Parker will have a chance to gain valuable experience.”We’ve got some kids that, with time, are going to contribute,” Connelly said.After a disappointing eighth-place finish in last season’s Great Lake Regional – the qualifying tournament for the NCAA championship meet – the men’s cross country team will take another shot at the NCAA championship this season. With the loss of senior Todd Mobley, the Irish will rely on upcoming juniors and sophomores to carry the load.Like the women’s team, the men will not be sending their top runners to the Crusader Invitational. Veterans from last season like seniors Eric Morrison and Sean O’Donnell will miss the invitational along with juniors Kaleb VanOrt and Tim Moore. However, the seven Irish runners competing today have fared well previously at the Crusader. Among them are junior Austin Weaver who finished fifth in the Invitational last year and A.J. Andrassy who placed eighth. With neither the men’s or women’s team sending their best runners, the Valparaiso Invitational serves to build the team in preparation for the more critical races.”The big focus is on the Big East, regionals and nationals,” Connelly said. “That’s the main focus.” The women will race today at 5 p.m. and the men start at 5:45 p.m.