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ND Cross Country: Irish host National Catholic Championships

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, September 15, 2006

Notre Dame will feel right at home this weekend.

Hosting the National Catholic Championships, the Irish will compete on the familiar grounds of the team’s practices – the Burke Memorial Golf Course.

This year’s race, which will begin at 4:15 p.m., will include 27 teams from across the country, from schools representing every NCAA division and the NAIA.

The Irish have the clear advantage going into the race, since they’ve been able to practice on the course all week.

“We definitely know the course, we know the footing, know how to run the course and make the times a little better,” freshman Brock Hagerman said. “Running in front of some Irish fans would probably help. Those are the two main advantages.”

Head men’s coach Joe Piane decided to have his team run the race in a pack again this week, a strategy that led the Irish to a win last week in the Crusader Invitational.

“I want to go out there and run with the big pack of guys we’re going to have out there. I don’t know if we’re going to have a standout runner,” Hagerman said. “But we’re definitely [going to] have a pack of five to nine team members running the whole race together … and try to get as many Irish jerseys across the finish line as close to the front as we can.”

Joining Hagerman in that pack will be experienced runners like juniors Jake Watson and Mike Popejoy as well as freshmen like Matt Tieuli, who already ran with the team in Valparaiso last weekend. Not running this week will be the team’s overall top two runners, Kurt Benninger and Patrick Smyth, who are being saved for tougher races down the stretch.

The team’s goal for this event is to win the overall race, a feat Notre Dame could not accomplish last season when Duquesne upset the Irish by a single point.

“So our goal for the main part is to win tomorrow,” Hagerman said. “We’ve had a pretty rich tradition of winning this championship. Coach [and] the whole team [were] real upset about losing the National Catholic Championship because we should win this thing every year. So we’re going to go after it and dominate the field.

“We want to show everyone at the meet what we’ve got and go out there and really make a statement that’s going to carry us through the rest of the season.”

The women’s squad, which is coming off a second place finish last weekend at the Valparaiso Invitational, will be led by junior Sunni Olding. Olding, who won the event last year, is looking to become the second multiple-time champion.

Notre Dame’s Joanna Deeter, who won four in a row from 1996-99, is the only runner to achieve that feat so far.