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ND WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY: Irish must replace two All-Americans

Kevin Brennan | Thursday, August 18, 2005

Losing two All-Americans is never good news. Nevertheless, Notre Dame women’s cross country coach Tim Connelly is optimistic about the upcoming season.The Irish concluded the 2004 campaign with a fourth place finish at the NCAA Championship on Nov. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind. Entering the meet with a string of unfortunate injuries, Notre Dame was thrilled with its top-five finish. “On that given day we did everything we could do,” Connelly said. Notre Dame lost two key members of last year’s team in Kerry Meagher and Lauren King, both top-five finishers for the Irish at the NCAA Championship and All-Americans. Connelly realizes the team will miss the duo’s high level of talent and leadership. “It’s going to take some work to replace those two,” Connelly said. Fortunately, the Irish return a strong trio of All-Americans in seniors Stephanie Madia and Molly Huddle and sophomore Sunni Olding. Madia finished in 23rd place at the NCAA Championship, leading the Irish with a time of 20:58 in the 6K race. Olding and Huddle, running on an injured foot, recorded the second and fourth best times, respectively, for Notre Dame. Madia, Olding and Huddle should serve as the backbone of this year’s team, with senior Jean Marinangeli and junior Katie DeRusso providing experienced depth. A strong class of incoming freshmen should also help counter the loss of Meagher and King. In particular, Ramsey Kavan, one of the top high school seniors in the nation last year, should figure into the Irish lineup from day one. Kavan finished third in last year’s Footlocker Cross Country National Championship, recording a blistering time of 17:47 in the 5K event. “She is a really talented kid who expects to come in and be a big contributor right away,” Connelly said. The Irish will open their season Sept. 9 at the Valparaiso Invitational. A week later, the team comes home for the National Catholic Championship at Notre Dame’s Burke Memorial Golf Course. The Irish have captured the last three National Catholic team titles, with Madia claiming the individual championship last season. On Sept. 23, the team will again race on its home course at the Notre Dame Invitational. The Irish have won top honors at this tournament three of the past four years. The regular season will come to an end at the pre-National Championship Oct. 15 in Terre Haute. The Irish will then head to New York on Oct. 28 for the Big East Championship, where the team finished second in 2004. On Nov. 12, Notre Dame will compete in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship in Bloomington, Ind. With a solid showing at regionals, the Irish will qualify for the national championship to be held ten days later in Terre Haute. Connelly has devised a clear plan to prepare his team for the ultimate goal of success at the NCAA championship. The coach will use the early meets to develop depth by mixing and matching several different lineups. “I like to put some of the younger, less experienced kids in a position where they can be counted on,” Connelly said. “The goal is to have a good nine to twelve really solid kids. We want a margin for error.”He believes that this strategy will have his team at its best when it matters most. “The goal is to get to the national meet and put ourselves in a position where we can be one of the top teams in the country,” Connelly said. “I think it’s a pretty realistic expectation. On paper, we are a very good team.”