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Irish Running for a Bid to NCAA Championships

Nov 7, 2012, 12:31 PM EDT

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The Irish cross country teams will return to the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wisc. this Friday for the Great Lakes Regional Championships. The men’s and women’s teams both struggled on the course at the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 14, finishing 26th and 12th respectively.

Now the stakes are much higher. With a strong performance on Friday, the Irish can qualify for the NCAA Championship meet, which takes place next Saturday, Nov. 17, in Louisville, Ky.

The men’s team has qualified for the NCAA Championship Meet in eight out of the last 10 years following strong finishes at the Great Lakes Regional. The Irish only missed out on an NCAA bid in 2003 and 2009, following eighth and seventh place finishes for those respective years. Generally, with a fourth place finish or higher in the Great Lakes Regional, the Irish have earned a spot in the national championship meet.

Last year, the men finished fourth with 119 points and qualified for the NCAA Championship, where they finished 24th. Senior Jeremy Rae led the Irish with a 17th place finish in a time of 30:41.3 in the 10K race. Close behind Rae were teammates Martin Grady, who finished 20th with a time of 30:44.2, and J.P. Malette, who placed 35th in 31:06.7.

The Irish will run against a competitive field that includes nationally ranked No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 12 Michigan, and No. 20 Indiana. Wisconsin is coming off a Big Ten Championship and looks to be the favorite for Friday’s meet. However, Rae, Martin, and Malette will look to put the No. 28 Irish in position to win the meet and qualify for nationals.

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The women’s team has also qualified seven out of the last 10 years for the NCAA Championships following successful races at the Great Lakes Regional. They won the regional meet in 2002, 2003, and 2009, years in which they went on to finish third, 10th, and 24th in the national championship.

Senior Jessica Rydberg, who placed 10th in a time of 20:46.7, and sophomore Gabby Gonzales, who finished 13th in 20:54.4, led the Irish runners to a fifth place finish in the Great Lakes Championship last year. The Irish qualified for the NCAA Championships where they finished 22nd.

In the women’s field, No. 6 Michigan, No. 11 Michigan State, and No. 18 Toledo will pose the greatest threat for the No. 23 Irish. Rydberg, Gonzales, and all-BIG EAST runners Kelly Curran and Rebecca Tracy will look to lead the Irish back to the national championship meet.

With their seasons on the line, look for the Irish cross country teams to give an all-out effort through the finish line this Friday to earn a chance to run for the national title next weekend.

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