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ND Cross Country: Excitement high about home races

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The men’s cross country team has three meets in September. Two of them are at home, and the other is a mere 60 miles away in Valparaiso, Ind.

Coach Joe Piane feels competing early on familiar turf is a good way to prepare for road trips to New York for the Big East Championships and the IC4A Championships.

“The meets progressively get more important as the season goes on,” he said.

Piane expects a successful season, as the Irish try to improve on their eleventh place finish at last season’s NCAA National Championship meet.

“[Our goal is to finish] better than eleventh,” he said.

Notre Dame returns six of seven regulars from last season, including front-runners Kurt Benninger, Tim Moore and Kaleb Van Ort. The trio finished 42nd, 43rd, and 96th, respectively, at the NCAA’s.

The Irish open the season as the heavy favorite to win the Valparaiso Invitational on Sept. 9. Piane said he is planning to rest Benninger and Van Ort for the meet in order to have them fresh for the rest of the season and to give younger runners a chance to shine in regular season competition.

A week later, Notre Dame hosts the National Catholic Championships at the Burke Memorial Golf Course. The Irish have won each of the last ten installments of this meet, which dates back to 1980 and is a fixture in the early part of the schedule. Moore won the event last year, and, as one of Notre Dame’s fastest runners, is poised to do it again.

Two weeks later, the Irish will host the 50th running of the Notre Dame Invitational at Burke. The meet is one of the oldest continuously run competitions in the nation. The Irish will compete with Stanford, the defending champion, for the top spot.

The two meets are permanent fixtures on the Irish slate, Piane said, which gives Notre Dame two guaranteed home meets a year – something he says is helpful to the team.

Since Burke is a golf course, its trail is almost completely flat, and coaches often worry their teams will fall behind when forced to run on hillier trails.

But Piane is not concerned.

“You don’t have to run hills every day to be good hill runner, especially if your kids are good athletes like ours are,” the coach said. “But we are working on them.”

Piane also said the team will run hills at Tuesday’s practice.

The Burke course loops around itself several times, cris-crossing around the golf course’s nine holes.

Once into October, the Irish gear up for several important post-season meets. First, the pre-national meet will take place on Oct.15 in Terre Haute, Ind. There the Irish will compete with teams from across the country and be able to judge where they stand with regard to the national championship contenders.

Two weeks later, Notre Dame will travel to Van Courtland Park in Bronx, N.Y for the Big East Championships. The Irish are defending champions and should be favored to repeat, although Georgetown, who finished only one point out of first in 2004, could present a major challenge.

Piane said the team is excited to run at Van Courtland Park, a venerable course the Irish know well.

Two weeks after the Big East meet, Notre Dame travels to Indiana University for the Great Lakes Regional, a precursor to the NCAA Championships. After that comes the IC4A Championships back in the Bronx, followed by the climax of the season – the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute.

Favorites to win include Colorado, Wisconsin and Arkansas.