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Irish travel to Terre Haute for NCAA Championships

Steve Coyer | Monday, November 22, 2004

Notre Dame has consistently proven itself to be among the best in the nation this year. Today at the NCAA championships, the team looks to continue that pattern.

With second-place finishes at the Great Lakes Regional, the No.5 ranked men’s team and the No. 6 women’s team qualified for the NCAA championships along with 31 other teams.

Despite beginning the season unranked, the men’s team has delivered in big meets – most notably a one-point victory over Georgetown to claim the Big East title.

“It’s been an amazing year to go from unranked to fifth,” Irish coach Joe Piane said. “They’ve been on a high for the past six weeks, and we hope to continue that for the next five or six days.”

The women’s team began the season with high expectations but has had to overcome injuries and other setbacks along the way.

After missing the regional race with a sore foot, star runner Molly Huddle may still not run today. Huddle had been a top finisher all season and placed 41st overall at last season’s NCAA championship.

“At the beginning of the year we had better hopes but things have not fallen into place,” Irish coach Tim Connelly said. “We have enough talent for a top-10 finish or better.”

The Irish will rely on Lauren King, Stephanie Madia, and Kerry Meagher to have strong performances if they are to finish in the top 10. King led the Irish with a 21st place finish at nationals in 2003.

The men’s squad will be at full strength for today’s race lead by Kurt Benninger, Kaleb Van Ort and Tim Moore. Van Ort was Notre Dame’s top finisher at nationals in 2002 and Moore placed 89th overall in 2003. Vincent Ambrico, AJ Andrassy, Ryan Johnson and Sean O’Donnell also will compete.

“We’re healthy and enthusiastic,” Piane said. “They’ll be ready to run once we get on the bus on Friday.”

Both Irish teams have had their share of experience at the NCAA meet. The men have competed in 11 of the past 13 national championships while the women have qualified for the past five years.

This year’s national race will be held in Terre Haute at the La Vern Gibson Championship Course. The Irish have previous experience on the course and hope to use this to their advantage.

“The kids love the course and are comfortable with it,” Connelly said. “In the past we’ve run fairly well there.”