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ND Cross Country: Teams earn NCAA bids

By Aaron Sant-Miller | Monday, November 12, 2012

Both Irish cross country teams went into the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet looking for a top-two finish, which would automatically qualify them for next weekend’s NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky.

The men, who finished in fifth, and the women, who finished third, both missed that goal Friday at the Thomas Zimmer Cross Country Course in Madison, Wisc. But the Notre Dame squads were given a second chance that night, as they earned at-large bids to compete at the national championship Sunday.

“I feel pretty good about how we ran this weekend. We really put together seven people that were all ready to come out and run a good race,” senior Rebecca Tracy said. “We got out well as a team and did a pretty good job of staying within sight of each other. We weren’t always right together, but we had the smallest gap one to five all season.”

Junior Kelly Curran led the women with a six-kilometer time of 20:40 and a 10th-place finish. Tracy finished behind Curran for the Irish, finishing 15th with a time of 20:48. Two seconds behind Tracy was freshman Molly Seidel, who claimed 19th (20:50). Sophomore Hannah Eckstein and junior Alexa Aragon rounded out the top-25 finishes for the Irish, with finishes of 22nd (20:53) and 23rd (20:56) respectively. All five runners earned NCAA all-region honors for their efforts.

“We feel pretty good about it,” Tracy said. “We knew if we wanted to score well, we would have to have five of us in the top 25. Having all five of us earn all-region is something I haven’t ever really seen since I’ve been here. It is pretty exciting.”

For the men’s squad, the team’s finish was marred by an injury to senior Jeremy Rae. Rae has been the top runner for the Irish this fall, but has been battling a nagging Achilles tendon injury for the last few weeks. Rae attempted to compete in the meet, but was unable to finish, dropping out just after the two-kilometer mark. The Irish were also competing without graduate student Jonathan Shawel, who was unable to race due to an Achilles injury as well.

“They are two of our best for sure, so that was really tough for us to deal with,” junior Martin Grady said. “We barely squeaked into the top five. I thought everybody ran well though. Losing those two definitely hurt, but I thought we did well considering the circumstances.”

Despite competing without Rae and Shawel, the Irish still ran strong in the men’s race, finishing with three runners in the top 25. Grady finished ninth for the Irish with a time of 31:02 over the 10-kilometer course. Junior Walter Schafer was the next Notre Dame runner to cross the line at the 31:37 mark, earning an 18th-place finish. Senior J.P. Malette wrapped up the top finishes for the Irish, finishing 23rd with a time of 31:46. All three runners claimed NCAA all-region honors as well.

“It was cool for us to get for sure,” Grady said. “[Sophomore] Jake [Kildoo] probably could have been there too. He’s been looking really good. It was a good race for all of us, especially for Walter. That was a big step forward for him. With all-region, it’s kind of arbitrary, so we kind of take it with a grain of salt.”

Still, the Irish remain are very excited, Tracy said, as they look forward to a chance to compete in the NCAA championships.

“We’re very excited. We ran in Louisville last year for the Big East. I personally like the course. It’s pretty flat. It will be pretty good for some of us who want to get out fast and hold our position. If we can tighten up our group a little and actually run with each other, that would give us a huge advantage.”

For the men, without two of their best runners, their chances of a top team finish have greatly diminished, Grady said. Still, the NCAA championships give a lot of runners the opportunity to really push themselves individually.

“I think it’s going to be good. I’m really excited, I love that stuff,” Grady said. “We have a couple guys who can really go for it. Without Jeremy and Shawel, we don’t have that much to lose. We won’t be too nervous, which will be cool. We’ll be able to just go out there and race as hard as we can without a worry.”

On Saturday, the Irish will look to do just that, as they travel to Louisville, Ky., to compete in the NCAA championships.

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