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NCAA Championship Meet Awaits for Irish

Nov 14, 2012, 4:17 PM EDT

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will return to the NCAA Championship Meet for the eighth and seventh times, respectively, in the past 10 seasons. Both teams received at-large qualifications for the championship field, and will run this Saturday, Nov. 17, at the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.

The men won the national championship race in 1957 with 121 total points, behind Ed Monnelly’s 19th place finish in the then 4-mile race. The Irish’s best recent finish at nationals was third overall in 2005, behind the strong performances of All-Americans Kurt Benninger, Tim Moore, and Kaleb Van Ort. Benninger placed 8th in a time of 29:50.2 in the 10K race to lead the Irish.

Last year, the men finished 24th out of 31 teams with 575 total points. Jeremy Rae (105th overall, 30:49.7 in 10K) and Martin Grady (110th, 30:52.6) led the Irish pack in the field of the nation’s top 255 runners.

This year, the team faces arguably an even stronger field of competition. The No. 29 Irish will run against familiar BIG EAST foes No. 14 Syracuse and No. 18 Georgetown, as well as Great Lakes Regional opponents No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 13 Michigan. After Rae was forced to drop out of the Great Lakes Regional last Friday with a leg injury, Grady and junior Walter Schafer were left to lead the Irish. Look for Grady, Schafer, and senior J.P. Malette to push the front of the pack again this Saturday.

For the women’s team, a national championship has so far proved elusive for the Irish. Like the men, the women’s best finish was 3rd place at the 2002 nationals. Led by Olympian Molly Huddle, who placed 6th in a time of 19:55.7 in the 6K race, the Irish finished with 170 total points. Huddle and All-American Stephanie Madia paced the women to 3rd (2002), 10th  (2003), 4th (2004), and 7th  (2005) place finishes during the team’s most consistent period of running in recent history.

The women placed 22nd out of 31 teams at last year’s NCAA Championship with 512 points. Kelly Curran (114th overall, 21:09.8 in 6K) and Gabby Gonzales (128th, 21:14.8) paced the Irish among the field of 254 runners.

Among a very competitive field for the women’s team are BIG EAST opponents No. 8 Providence and No. 11 Georgetown, and Great Lakes Regional foes No. 6 Michigan and No. 13 Michigan State. Also included in the field is No. 1 Florida State who dominated the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 28. Curran and senior Rebecca Tracy will hope to lead the Irish to a strong finish and maybe even a little revenge against some of its regular season opponents.

After a long and physically taxing season, look for the Irish to compete with one final all-out performance at the NCAA Championship Meet on Saturday.

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