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ND Women’s Cross Country: Connelly is confident for meet

Joe Meixell | Friday, November 11, 2005

After winning the Big East Championship, the No. 4 Notre Dame women’s cross country team set its sights on a higher goal: a national championship.

The Irish will take their first step towards that goal Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional Meet.

Notre Dame needs a top-two finish to guarantee a spot in the National Championships but can also earn an at-large selection.

While Irish head coach Tim Connelly said he is confident about the team’s chances to finish in the top two, he said that the Great Lakes is one of the nation’s toughest regions, featuring several highly-ranked teams.

“Realistically there could be five or six teams [from the Great Lakes Regional] that could go to the NCAAs,” Connelly said.

“Michigan’s ranked third in the country. Pitt was third in the Big East. Butler is ranked in the top 20 in the country. Indiana and Michigan State are each ranked in the top 30. It’s a pretty strong region.”

Despite the stiff competition, Connelly said his team is not intimidated by the field.

“We’ve really faced good competition all year,” he said. “Our kids are not going to be overwhelmed running against good people in the NCAAs. I don’t think being in a strong region hurts us. In fact, it can only help us.”

Notre Dame will send out a familiar lineup featuring All-Americans Molly Huddle, Stephanie Madia and Sunni Olding.

Talented freshman Ramsey Kavan, who earned All-Big East honors this year, will also compete.

Huddle, Madia, Olding and Kavan have formed an intimidating top four this year, but the Irish have struggled at times to find a fifth and final scoring runner capable of staying close to the foursome.

In the Big East meet, junior Katie DeRusso was Notre Dame’s fifth runner, finishing No. 16 overall, only eight places behind Kavan. Senior Jean Marinangeli finished just behind De Russo at No. 18.

Connelly said he hopes the days of the disappointing fifth runner are over for the Irish.

“I thought at the Big East, we had six kids run really really well,” he said. “I think it’s going to keep getting better as our girls gain more and more confidence. On Saturday we hope to have seven runners run really really well.”

Elizabeth Webster, who finished 32nd at the Big East, will try to be that seventh runner.

If the Irish qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they will compete again Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.