Repeat not likely as Irish head to New Jersey
A year ago, Notre Dame dominated the Big East outdoor championships, finishing with 164 points to second place Conn-ecticut's 111. But that was a team that boasted graduated senior stars Chris Cochran, Marshaun West, Tim Kober, Phil Mishka and Matt Thompson. Now they all are gone, and some key Irish athletes are competing at less than 100 percent.
"We graduated a ton of points," said Irish head coach Joe Piane. "We'll still score in a lot of areas, but I don't know how many big points we'll get. We'll do OK. We were third indoors, we hope to equal that outdoors."
They will have to do that without the services of top sprinter Tom Gilbert. Gilbert, who owned the team's top time in the 200-meters during the indoor season, is limited to long jumping because of a lingering hamstring injury. Last year Gilbert finished fifth in the long jump with a leap of 23 feet, 11 1/2 inches.
"It kind of works to my advantage for the long jump," Gilbert said. "I'm just jumping at the Big East. Without sprinting, long jumping is going to be a lot easier. Long jump at Big East is going to be my main focus right now."
But Gilbert's event coach, Scott Winsor, doesn't necessarily think Gilbert is competing at his best.
"The only reason he feels comfortable long jumping is because he's not running full speed down the runway," Winsor said. "I've told him that. It's a speed event. At the same time, if he can't run full speed, you've got to get what you can get."
With Gilbert off the track, the pressure is on senior Travis Davey to produce in his final career Big East meet. Davey, who finished sixth in the 100-meters last season, enters the week with the No. 2 time in the 100-meters and the No. 7 seed in the 200.
"This being his last meet I hope it'll give him a little more inspiration," Irish sprints coach John Millar said of Davey, a New York native likely to compete in front of his family. "On the men's side in the sprints he's going to be key for us."
The injury bug also hit the Irish in the 400-meters. Senior Terry Wray fought off an ankle injury in early April and failed to run a qualifying time for the meet in the 400, his main event. With Wray out, only freshman James Bracken will compete in the 400, while Wray will strengthen the Irish 4x400-meter relay team.
Wray will be joined on that team by Mike Mansour, Napoleon Suarez and Bracken. With Gilbert out, Millar will field a 4x100-meter relay squad of Davey, Mansour, Marton Gyulai and Bill Hurd.
Suarez and Mark Barber, Notre Dame's freshman hurdlers, both should compete for points. Barber placed first in the 110-meter hurdles at Purdue last weekend in a time of 14.86 seconds while ending up second in the 400-meter hurdles at 56.23. Suarez ran the 400-meter hurdles in 53.75 seconds, a time ranked ninth in the conference heading into the week.
"He ran well and he's come around," Millar said of Barber. "If he continues to improve, he may be able to sneak in there and score some points. At least you feel like he's going to be competitive."
The Irish should be strong in the triple jump and high jump with the return of junior Quillian Redwine. Redwine, who underwent knee surgery in March, posted a 47-7 mark in the triple jump at Purdue last weekend. He already has cleared 6-11 in the high jump outdoors this season.
"He's doing a great job," Winsor said. "We're going to need to get some good points out of both of those events."
Winsor is looking for rejuvenated efforts from the No. 2 athletes in each of Redwine's events. In the high jump, Andrew Cooper finished first at the indoor conference meet, but has gone out early the past two weekends.
"He assured me yesterday that he'll be ready to go," Winsor said. "Coming from Coop, I like that. I'm confident he'll do well."
Godwin Mbagwu, who cleared 50 feet in the triple jump during the indoor season, sat out the last two weeks to nurse an ailing knee. Mbagwu will compete alongside Gilbert in the long jump and Redwine and Scott Kelley in the triple jump.
"I think he's feeling really really good," Winsor said. "He's feeling refreshed and healthy. He's going to have to perform for us to finish where we want to be."
In the pole vault, Josh Heck — who finished second during the indoor season — should compete for the title while teammate Joe Yanof is expected to compete for points. It is uncertain whether Nathan Cahill, nursing a sore hamstring, will compete.
"Josh is doing real well," Winsor said. "He's on the verge of vaulting real well. He can go out there and if he vaults well he can win."
In the throws, the Irish hopes rest on Derek Dyer, who is seeded first in the discus. Freshman Juan Alba is also expected to score in the disc.
"[Dyer is] seeded No. 1 and if he can go out there and throw well he can win it," Winsor said. "For the men to do what we want them to do, our throwers are going to have to pick up some points."
John Scolaro and Brian Thornburg will be looked at in the hammer, while Matt O'Brien and Mike Madigan are expected to score points in the javelin.
In the distance races, the Irish are peaking at the right time. Ryan Shay has qualified for the NCAA's in the 5,000- and 10,000 meters, while Pat Conway has posted impressive marks in the 1,500 meters. Freshman David Alber finished second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at Purdue.
"I think we're starting to come together," Shay said. "Everyone on the team no matter what event knows that everyone to a man is going to have to come through for us to do well."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, May 2, 2001