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ND Women’s Cross Country: Workouts build to climax

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Heading into 2006, Notre Dame coach Tim Connelly has one thing on his mind – consistency.

The Irish finished strong last season, including a Big East title and a second-place finish in the Great Lakes regional en route to a seventh-place finish in the NCAA Championship meet.

But in order to reach those milestones again this year, Notre Dame needs some new runners to fill the void left after the graduation of five starting runners from last season.

“Last year was a good senior class,” Connelly said. “We’ve got a bunch of kids here that have been waiting for their chance – Ann Mazur, Jackie Carter, Julie Opet, and Amy Kohlmeier are all going to go out and take their shot.”

In addition to these returning players, Connelly will look to his incoming freshman class, including Lindsay Ferguson and Molly Sullivan, to help carry the Irish.

One problem with relying so heavily on the freshmen’s ability to compete early in the season is the jump from of high school to college competition. In order to ease the shift to college, Connelly devised a summer-training schedule.

“We found out what they were doing in high school and made sure to make what we’re doing not a total departure from that and kind of just gradually work up to what we’re doing,” Connelly said.

But the gradual increase in training difficulty did not end with the summer as Connelly continued a steady training schedule in the first week of fall practice last week. This year’s practice schedule will be consistently difficult, Connelly said, increasing each runner’s ability as the season continues.

The main reason Connelly does not want to push his team too hard at any single point is to keep Notre Dame competitive for a tough conference and a tough NCAA regional. In addition to the high level of talent in the Great Lakes region – which boasted seven teams in the top 30 at last season’s NCAA meet – Notre Dame has lost part of the core group of runners that has helped it win three of the last four Big East conference championships, including four top-10 finishers in last year’s conference championship in The Bronx, N.Y.

Still, Connelly said if the team can focus on the season-ending races and work toward them, the Irish should succeed.

“The idea is each race gets a little better and you kind of build,” Connelly said. “And obviously our main focus in years past has been the conference championship and regionals to qualify for the NCAA tournament.”

Overall, Connelly said he feels this year’s team can turn some heads, especially in the Big East.

After being consistently ranked among the top teams in the NCAA for the past few years, the Irish are now considered average – in part because of the graduation a talented bunch of seniors.

“This year we’re a team that nobody’s counting on a whole lot to happen,” Connelly said. “We’re just going to go out and take our shots.”