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Track and Field: Squad looks to qualify for NCAAs

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, March 2, 2007

After delivering one of the top performances in the country during the Big East conference meets, the Irish still have work left to do this season as they head into the Alex Wilson Invitational today at the Loftus Center.The tournament, which begins tonight at 5 and resumes Saturday at 10 a.m., will feature some of the best competition in the country.”You have to be approved by the NCAA, so there’s only about four or five meets worth their salt,” Irish coach Joe Piane said. “It’s going to be a fantastic meet and we have people coming in from across the globe.”Piane said the ultimate goal of the Alex Wilson Invitational is to qualify as many people as possible in the NCAA Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., March 9 and 10. In order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, a competitor must be in the top-15 finishers in his event.”But just to get someone to the NCAAs is amazing,” Piane said. “You’re in the top one percent of your event in the country.”After the Big East tournament Notre Dame has six athletes qualified for the NCAA Tournament – all of whom run in distance events. Currently, Notre Dame has two qualifiers in the men’s mile, one in the men’s half-mile, one in the men’s 5,000-meter and two in the women’s 5,000.But even with six runners qualified, Piane wants more.”The purpose of this meet is a last chance opportunity to get people qualified for the NCAAs,” Piane said. “So we’re not running a lot of people. We’re running people we feel that they have an opportunity.”Notre Dame will be running more distance runners on the men’s side, including junior Adam Currie in the 800-meter and sophomore Patrick Smyth in the 3,000-meter. The Irish men will also run a distance medley, a race done in four parts with a 1,200-meter portion followed by 400 meters, 800 meters, and then 1,600 meters.Senior sprinters Maryann Erigha and Okechi Ogbuokiri highlight the women’s side. Sophomore Molly Huddle and senior Amy Kohlmeier will also run this weekend in the 5,000-meter race.Despite the emphasis on the distance events for Notre Dame this season, Piane still feels that his team is well balanced between distance, sprints and field events.”We’ve historically had pretty good distance – anywhere from the 800 on upward – for decades, and we’ll continue,” Piane said. “But it’s not as if we’re just a distance school. We have Maryann and Okechi running, and some very good quarter-milers and we have a chance at the mile relay.”