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ND Track and Field: Teams turn attention to relay races

Alex West | Thursday, April 23, 2009

With several individuals already qualified on both the men’s and women’s teams for the NCAA Regionals in late May, the Irish focus this weekend is on the Drake and Hillsdale Relays.

Although the men’s and women’s 4×800-meter and 4×1,600 relay teams cannot qualify for the NCAAs this weekend, Irish coach Joe Piane said he is confident that the relay teams will repeat past recent success in the events.

“I’d like to think both teams will be competitive,” Piane said. “Last year the men’s team won the 4×1,600 and finished second in the 4×800 relays.”

The Irish have won the 4×1,600 relay the last three years and in five of the last seven years.

Both teams will be facing steep competition, including No. 11 Minnesota.

Piane said he wants his team to stay focused.

“Our focus right now if for the Big East Championship,” Piane said. “After that we can worry about the NCAAs.”

However, the Irish have a significant number of athletes already qualified for the NCAA Regionals on May 29.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think there are around a dozen who have already qualified on the men’s team,” Piane said. “And on the women’s team I think we have eight who have already qualified.”

Several members of the team are posting times that are among the best in the nation. In the men’s 10,000-meter race, senior Patrick Smyth has recorded the second best time in the country. Smyth also holds the fourth-best time in the country in the 5,000-meter race.

On the women’s team, junior Lindsey Ferguson posted the nation’s 11th best time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and senior Mary Saxer holds the nation’s fourth-best mark in the pole vault.

Piane said he doesn’t want his runners and throwers to be worried about their numbers in the individual meets right now.

“Right now, we’re not necessarily looking for great numbers,” Piane said. “But rather we’re just looking to be really competitive.”

The Drake Relays begin Friday morning in Des Moines and the Hillsdale Relays, in Hillesdale, Mich., begin Friday as well.