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ND Cross Country: Irish seek success in championships

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, November 20, 2011

Both the Irish men’s and women’s teams will race for the national title in the NCAA championships on Monday at Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind. They are both making at-large appearances in 31-team fields.

The championship meet features winners from each regional meet, plus at-large teams. The men’s team earned an at-large invite to the meet after finishing fourth at the Great Lake Regional. The men placed 25th at the 2010 NCAA championships, and all the runners from the men’s team will try to become Notre Dame’s first All-American runner since Patrick Smyth earned the honor in 2008.

Sophomore Martin Grady has paced the Irish this year, culminating with an all-region performance. Junior Jeremy Rae and senior Jordan Carlson also earned all-region honors in the race.

Despite strong finishes from Carlson, Rae and Grady, the Irish placed just fourth in the regional meet.

“Individually, I want to finish in the top 80,” Rae said. “Team-wise, we would like to finish in the top 20.”

Seniors Kelly Lynch and Joe Miller, junior J.P. Malette and sophomores Walter Schafer and DJ Thornton look to join Carlson, Rae and Grady.

“When it’s the last race, you tend to give in to the pain,” Rae said. “It’s going to be painful, but we need to fight through it.”

Notre Dame will face stiff competition in the toughest meet of its season.

“We’ve got to see a lot of good teams throughout the season,” Rae said. “We’ve faced some really good teams in all our meets other than the National Catholic [championships]. We’ve had some good workouts in the past few weeks.”

Junior Jessica Rydberg led the team in every race she has participated in and was a major factor in Notre Dame’s last NCAA championships race appearance in 2009, where the Irish came in 23rd place.

“We definitely want to finish in the top 20, maybe even in the top 15,” junior Rebecca Tracy said.

Notre Dame finished fifth last time out in the NCAA Regional meet, while Rydberg finished 10th, earning all-region honors.

Freshman Gabby Gonzales also garnered all-region honors.

Tracy finished 34th in the contest, crossing in 21:28. She has set her goals higher this season.

“I want to run as close to 21 minutes as possible,” Tracy said.

Seniors Molly Hirt and Rachel Velarde and sophomores Alexa Aragon, Kelly Curran and McKinzie Schulz will also race at the meet.

“We’re trying to keep it together as a pack,” Tracy said.

The Irish will meet many other ranked opponents at the meet. Compared to the field at the Notre Dame Invitational and the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, this field will also feature top competition. The Notre Dame Invitational featured six ranked women’s teams; the Wisconsin adidas Invitational featured 18.

“We faced some good competition at the ND Invite and at Wisconsin,” Tracy said. “We learned a lot about how to start out and hopefully built some confidence along the way.”

The men’s 10-kilometer race begins at 12:08 p.m. on Saturday, while the women’s six-kilometer race starts at 12:58 p.m. Both races will be held in Terre Haute, Ind.