Notre Dame aims for top spot at Big East Championships
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assisstant Sports Editor
The Notre Dame cross country squads have one more opportunity to tune up for the postseason at the Big East Championships in Manhattan.
The Irish should be among the top teams competing in the meet, both on the men's and women's sides.
Notre Dame's men's squad finished sixth at the Pre-National NCAA meet Oct. 15 —shocking everyone but themselves. Following that showing, the Irish rose from 17th to 10th in the national rankings.
"It raised our confidence a lot," said sophomore Marc Striowski. "Because we improved in the national standings from 17 to 10 and shows that we're competitive with Georgetown and the other top teams in the country."
Conference rival Georgetown is the lone Big East team ranked higher than Notre Dame. The Hoyas, who have already defeated the Irish twice this season, are seventh in the national standings. But the Irish are hoping the third time will be a charm, and that they will be able to knock off their foe.
"We have to beat Georgetown, who's ranked seventh just ahead of us," said Striowski. "They're definitely the favorite, but we have a pretty good chance."
Head coach Joe Piane isn't promising an upset, but thinks the Irish are capable of bringing home a championship if their third through seventh runners can pick up the pace.
Junior Ryan Shay has finished first for the Irish in every race he has run this season. Shay is a top competitor nationally, capturing fourth at Pre-Nationals, just six seconds behind the leader. He qualified for the NCAA Championships last season, and is aiming for the top 10 this year.
Sophomore Luke Watson has run solidly for Notre Dame throughout the year. He is also experienced in elite competition, having run in the U.S. Junior Cross Country Championship last year.
Following Shay and Watson to the finish line all season have been Striowski, seniors Sean McManus, John Dudley, Mike Griewe and Ryan Maxwell and freshman Antonio Lopez.
"We need to get our top five in the top 15 and top six in the top 20," said Striowski. "We just have to run a little more aggressively than last week."
The Irish women, on the other hand, struggled at the Pre-National meet, winding up 22nd.
They were missing their top runner, senior All-American JoAnna Deeter, who sat out the race with a sprained ankle. Deeter, who has paced the Irish all season long, will not be able to compete in the Big East Championships, and may have to sit out the rest of the season.
Women's head coach Tim Connelly downplayed the importance of Deeter's absence.
"Our goals are to be in the top three," said Connelly. "I think that's very realistic. They're training very, very well."
Notre Dame is seeking to get back on track following its disappointing performance at Pre-Nationals. Since at-large qualification for nationals is based primarily on what other teams a school has beaten, Notre Dame needs an outstanding showing today for a shot at an at-large bid.
"We're hoping to finish third," said senior Alison Klemmer. "We're trying to pull back together and run well as a team."
"It's really important in terms of getting our confidence back. In this sport, confidence is everything," said Connelly. "The thing about our sport is that no one else can stop you from running well. You're in control of whether you run well or not."
Klemmer is the top Irish runner competing today. She finished 44th overall at Pre- Nationals, leading all Notre Dame athletes to the finish line.
Senior Nicole LaSelle will enter the Irish lineup for the first time this year. She has been injured through much of her career but could be a significant addition for Notre Dame.
Last track season, LaSelle placed fifth in the Big East Championships in the 5,000-meter run and qualified for the NCAA championships in the 10,000-meter run.
"We tried to be patient and bring her along and not rush things," said Connelly. "She tried as well as I've seen her train in the last three years."
Seniors Patty Rice and Erin Luby, juniors Erin Olson and Bridget O'Brien and freshman Jennifer Handley are the next strongest runners for the Irish. The squad was ranked 22nd at the beginning of the season, and is seeking to make its way back into the rankings with a top-three placing today.
The Big East Championships course is 8K for the men and 5K for the women.
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 29, 1999