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ND Cross Country: Squad runs in pre-NCAAs

Laura Myers | Thursday, October 16, 2008

Consider it a midterm exam for the men’s and women’s cross country teams.

While most students will be relaxing Saturday, the runners will face their toughest challenge yet when they travel to Terre Haute, Ind., for the pre-NCAA meet.

Doing well at the pre-NCAA meet would be a major step for Notre Dame to earn an at-large team bid to the NCAA Regionals and Championships, which take place in November.

“It’s a must-perform meet to get at-large points and have a realistic chance to make the NCAAs,” women’s head coach Tim Connelly said.

The Irish faced national competition for the first time this season on Oct. 3 at the Notre Dame Invitational, which featured several ranked teams. There, the men tied for sixth place and the women finished in 11th place.

However, Connelly said he thought his team could have done better.

“We came up a little short of where we wanted to be, where we needed to be,” he said.

The level of competition will be even higher in Terre Haute, as 23 of the top 30 women’s teams will be competing and 24 of the top 30 men’s teams will be competing, according to the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association.

The Irish men fell out of the rankings after the Notre Dame Invitational, but remain close. The women, who are also not in the top 30, received votes for the first time.

“If we had run a lot better two weeks ago, we would be well-entrenched in the top 30,” Connelly said.

Both teams have an even distribution of veterans and rookies who have done well. Senior Patrick Smyth finished first among the Irish and fifth overall at the ND Invitational. The next three finishers were sophomores Dan Jackson and Paul Springer, and freshman Ryan Gamboa. It was only the second career race for Jackson and Gamboa.

For the women, the duo of junior Lindsay Ferguson and sophomore Marissa Treece has finished first and second for Notre Dame at every race this season. Ferguson finished 17th at the ND Invitational, while Treece finished 38th. Behind Treece was freshman Rachel Velarde, who was running in only her second race.

Although the opposition will be more intense, Connelly said the basic strategy has not changed.

“It’s not like basketball where you install a new offense,” he said. “Basically, you’re training every day, you’re running, and hopefully you’ll improve your fitness