Shay, Klemmer lead Irish into NCAA Championships
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assistant Sports Editor
The men's and women's cross country teams both head to the NCAA Championships Monday for only the second time in Notre Dame history, led by junior Ryan Shay and senior Allison Klemmer.
The men have consistently improved all season long, rising from unranked at the beginning of the year to seventh this week.
Their climb in the polls has been sparked by victories at the National Catholic Invitational and Big East Championships, runner-up finishes in the adidas/Notre Dame Invitational and NCAA District IV Championships, and sixth-place in the Pre-National Championships in mid-October.
"The first goal is to be in the top 10, with a secondary goal to be in the top five," head coach Joe Piane said. "We're ranked seventh in the nation, so we'd hope to replicate that."
"Our attitude going into the meet is to hold our ranking, which is seventh right now," Shay said. "To be in the top 10 is huge, and to accomplish that is astounding. As a team, we're really confident that we can do that. Our spirits are up and our confidence is up, and that's really good going into a meet like nationals."
Based on their performances so far this season, a top-five to top-10 finish is a realistic goal.
"I think we've definitely got a great shot of if not being in the top five, being in the top 10," senior Mike Greiwe said. "We've really made some strides this season. It's going to take a strong race from everyone. We're going to have to go out and run intelligently and keep moving up in the pack."
One of the keys to the Irish improvement has been the performances of the third through seventh runners.
"The group that has done the most improvement through the season is John Dudley, Mike Greiwe, Ryan Maxwell and Sean McManus and Marc Striowski," said Piane.
"They are the heart and soul of the team right now," Shay said. "What Luke [Watson] and I do doesn't matter half as much as what those guys do."
Shay and sophomore Watson have been pacesetters for the Irish this year.
"We're basically looking to do as we've done all season, and run together," said Greiwe. "We've got two great front-runners in Shay and Watson, and the rest of us will have to stick together and keep picking people off."
Shay qualified for nationals as a sophomore and is looking to make a big improvement on his finish last year.
He has captured individual titles at several meets this season, including the adidas/Notre Dame Invitational and the Big East Invitational.
"To be in the top 10 would probably be my primary goal," Shay said. "Once the race starts, depending on how I feel, to keep moving up as close to the first-place spot as I can get. I don't feel anybody out there is a better runner than me. Whether I win or not doesn't prove someone's a better runner. It just means maybe on a given day they were."
Shay and Watson could make a big splash in the meet. To be All-Americans, they must finish among the top 25 U.S. citizens in the race.
"I think both Shay and Watson have a shot at being All-American," Piane said.
"I know what he [Watson] does in practice, and there's no reason he shouldn't be there right with me," Shay said.
The men will run 10K as at the district meet.
The increased distance should help the Irish, as the regular season races are run over an 8K course.
"We've always trained for 10,000-meters," said Piane.
The women's squad is running in the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1993.
They placed third at districts and received an at-large bid Monday based on their performance during the season.
"I think a good realistic goal would be to be in the top 20, and I think we're going to have to run very, very well to do that," women's head coach Tim Connelly said. "If we compete as well as we did back at the Big East meet, I think we can do that."
The Irish were somewhat surprised to qualify for nationals because the NCAA selection committee had to go through Michigan, the second-place finisher at districts, to get to the Irish.
"As a team, we're going into this race as underdogs," said Klemmer. "No one's looking for us to do anything at all. We're going to go out there and run as well as we can, so there's no pressure."
Freshman Jennifer Handley is excited to be running in the NCAA Championships.
"We're kind of just excited to be going," Handley said. "We don't really have any expectations of where we're going to be. Last meet, we had a lot of pressure on us to qualify, but this time we're just going to go out and run and have fun."
Klemmer, an All-American in track, is aiming to match that honor Monday in cross country.
She placed sixth in the district meet, qualifying for nationals as an individual.
"I am shooting to be All-American," Klemmer said. "I think I'm going to have to run a really great race, but I'm definitely capable of doing it."
Connelly is not certain which runners besides Klemmer and Handley will be going to the starting line for the Irish, as several athletes have fought injuries and illnesses over the past couple weeks.
Seven other runners will go to the meet in Bloomington, Ind. — seniors Nicole LaSelle, Erin Luby, Patty Rice and Valerie Siqueira; juniors Chrissy Kuenster and Erin Olson; and freshman Kari Eaton. Five will compete, depending on who is in the best condition to run at race time.
"If we have any goal as a team, it would be to run together, because teamwork is what got us there," said Rice, who will run her final cross country meet Monday. "Just looking around and seeing the people we've been working with for four years at the finish line, I think, is going to heighten the experience."
The Irish won the National Catholic Invitational earlier this season.
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 19, 1999