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MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY: Irish use subpar NCAAs as motivation for 2005

Kevin Brennan | Thursday, August 18, 2005

Joe Piane has a bitter taste in his mouth. After his team finished the 2004 regular season ranked fifth in the nation and winning the Big East Championship, the Notre Dame men’s cross country coach held great expectations heading into the NCAA Championship in Terre Haute, Ind. Notre Dame finished a mediocre 11th place, though, ending a stellar season on a low note.”We weren’t pleased with that at all,” Irish head coach Joe Piane said. “That was a disappointing 11th. We anticipated doing much better.”That will be a motivator for us this year.”The team will look to rebound this season behind a deep, experienced and talented group of runners. Notre Dame will be led by its three captains – seniors Tim Moore and Sean O’Donnell and junior Kurt Benninger. In addition to the tri-captains, the Irish return three of the other four runners who competed in the NCAA Championships in seniors A.J. Andrassy, Kaleb Van Ort and Vincent Ambrico. Junior Todd Ptacek and sophomores Jake Watson, Michael Popejoy and Dan Curran all figure to push for spots in the top-seven. “We should be significantly deeper than we were 12 months ago,” Piane said. The coach realizes the value of experience, especially when it comes time for post-season competition. Notre Dame’s sizeable group of seasoned veterans should provide a huge advantage late in the year. “Kids that have experience certainly are not going to be intimidated by the fact that they are at the national championship,” Piane said. “The first time you go to the NCAA’s you learn how to act. The second time, you come to compete.”Piane also believes that the team’s depth will keep individuals focused and working hard throughout the season.”There is going to be zero complacency on this team,” the coach said. “Somebody knows if they slip up, there’s going to be two guys that want their spot.”Notre Dame will also be bolstered by the addition of a strong freshman class. Piane expects two first year runners in particular to make an immediate impact. Robbie Baranyi of Yakima, Wash., finished 8th at the Footlocker High School National Championship. Fellow freshman Patrick Smythe won the 2004 Utah state championship. Both youngsters have excellent chances of making significant contributions early in their careers for the Irish. Notre Dame opens its season on Sept. 9 at the Valparaiso Invitational. The Irish then have two tournaments in a row on their home course. The National Catholic Championship will be September 16, with the Notre Dame Invitational following two weeks later. Notre Dame has captured the past ten team titles at the National Catholic Championship, and Tim Moore was last year’s individual champion. The team has also finished first at the Notre Dame Invitational two of the last five years. The team ends its regular season Oct. 15 in Terre Haute for the Pre-National Championship meet. The Irish will begin post-season play by attempting to defend their title at the Big East Championship in New York on Oct. 28. Notre Dame then travels to Bloomington, Ind., for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship, where the team finished second in 2004. The Irish hope to conclude their season at the NCAA Championship in Terre Haute on Nov. 22. To qualify for the national championship, Notre Dame must either place in the top two at regionals or perform well enough during the year to receive an at-large bid. Piane plans to hold his top veteran runners out of the early races. Benninger, Moore and O’Donnell all probably will not compete until the Notre Dame Invitational. The coach does not want his top runners to be burned out by the end of the season, and he likes to give freshman and inexperienced upperclassmen a chance to prove themselves in the early tournaments. “It’s very difficult to race over 8K, and if you do it too many times, you’re just going to get exhausted,” Piane said. “The seasoned veterans really don’t need a lot of racing, they just need to train.”Piane plans to have his top runners in prime form for a return to the NCAA Championship and a chance at redemption. “Our goal is to get back to the NCAA’s and improve upon last year’s performance,” Piane said.