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Irish Prepared to Race Against Nation’s Best

Sep 28, 2012, 9:07 AM EDT

Following their dominant performances at the National Catholic Championships two weeks ago, the Irish men’s and women’s cross country teams are prepared to face off against some of the top-ranked teams in the nation. The season continues this Friday at the Burke Golf Course with the 57th annual Notre Dame Invitational, which promises to display cross country running at its finest.

Competition begins at 2:00 pm with the Women’s Gold Race (5K), in which the Notre Dame “B” team will face challenges from some of the nation’s elite programs in Divisions II and III, including No. 22 Hillsdale (DII) and No. 8 Calvin (DIII).

The Men’s Gold Race (5 miles) will follow at 2:45 pm. The Irish men’s “B” team will also face strong competition from North Central College and Calvin, the No. 1 and No. 6 ranked programs in Division III, respectively.

After the JV/Open Race at 3:30 pm, the Women’s Blue Race will begin at 4:15 pm, which the Irish will be seeking to win for the first time since 2003. Victory will be no easy task for the No. 20 Irish, who will be running against 4 other teams in the Top 30 of the USTFCCCA Rankings for Division I: No. 2 Florida State, No. 19 New Mexico, No. 21 Butler, and No. 25 NC State.

Last year, Florida State dominated the Women’s Blue Race, winning by a 62-point margin. Notre Dame finished 5th overall, led by senior Jessica Rydberg, who placed 25th overall in the individual results with a time of 17:33 in the 5K race.

This year, led by Rydberg and fellow senior Rebecca Tracy, the women’s team is coming off of a strong performance in the National Catholic Championships, in which the team’s top 7 runners placed in the top 12 overall. Tracy, who won the meet with a time of 17:11.8, will look to have the Irish running strong against some of the nation’s elite programs.

The meet will conclude with the Men’s Blue Race at 5:00 pm, in which the No. 24 Irish will compete against 8 of the USTFCCCA’s Top 30: No. 10 Florida State, No. 14 Texas A&M, No. 17 Princeton, No. 20 Tulsa, No. 21 New Mexico, No. 25 Eastern Kentucky, No. 26 Michigan, and No. 29 Washington State.

The Irish finished 11th overall in last year’s race, led by senior J.P. Malette who placed 41st with a time of 24:51 in the 5-mile race.  The Irish have their work cut out for them against returning opponents Florida State (2nd place finish in 2011), Princeton (3rd), Washington State (5th), New Mexico (8th), and Eastern Kentucky (9th).

The men cruised to a victory at the National Catholic Championships behind senior Jeremy Rae, who won the race with a time of 24:16. Rae, who along with Rebecca Tracy was named a BIG EAST Cross Country Athlete of the Week for his performance, will be looking to lead the men to their first win in the Notre Dame Invitational since 2007.

Friday’s meet is the final home race of the season, before the Irish prepare to race in the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 12, and the BIG EAST Championships on Oct. 26. The results of these races will likely reveal just how prepared the Irish are to compete on the national stage in the NCAA Championships this November.

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