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ND Cross Country: Men’s and women’s squads qualify for NCAA meet

Vicky Jacobsen | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Both the men’s and women’s squads concluded the 2012 season at the NCAA  championship meet in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 17. The men, who qualified as a team for the third year in a row, finished 28th out of 31 teams, while the women finished 15th, their best showing since 2005.

“We moved forward in terms of competing at the national level,” women’s coach Tim Connelly said. “We finished 15th and we really weren’t too far away from being 10th or 11th.”

As was the case throughout the year, the women’s team stuck together at the championships, as senior Rebecca Tracy, sophomore Gabby Gonzales and juniors Alexa Aragon and Kelly Curran all crossed the line within two seconds of each other. 

“We had a team that didn’t have a whole lot of front-runners, so we really emphasized finding each other and racing with each other,” Connelly said. “And I thought we did a really good job of that at the NCAAs.”

The men’s team qualified for the national finals despite losing senior Jeremy Rae the previous weekend to an injury at the Great Lakes regional.

“When you lose your No. 1 runner, it’s a tough nut to crack, but they did and they did very well,” men’s coach Joe Piane said. “You have to understand that there’s 321 Division I teams, and only 31, or 10 percent, make it into the national championship. So that’s a pretty formidable obstacle to overcome, and they did. They did a great job.”

The women’s team benefitted from decorated track athletes who found their footing on the trail. 

“Kelly Curran really took a big step forward for us in terms of being a cross-country runner,” Connelly said. “She’s done a really good job her first two years on the track,  and this year as a junior she really stepped up and did a great job in terms of cross-country. Rebecca Tracy was the same way. She had been an All-American on the track and really took a big step forward in cross-country as well.”

The injury bug also bit the women: Connelly said his biggest disappointment of the year was that sophomore Hannah Eckstein was injured after a great performance at the regional meet and was unable to compete at the NCAAs.

The outlook for next year remains strong, however, as Tracy is the only senior leaving the women’s top-five, and Jeremy Rae and J.P. Malette will both return for fifth years on the men’s side.

“We lose one fella, [senior] Jeff MacMillan, and other than that everybody’s back,” Piane said. “We did not run Michael Clevenger this year, nor did we run Tim Ball, nor did we run Kevin Durham. All were very, very good freshmen, and so they’re basically freshmen again next year. It’s going to be a very, very good team.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]