A profile on legendary Notre Dame track and cross country coach as he prepares to retire after 39 seasons.
Piane departs following second-longest tenure of any coach in Notre Dame athletics history.
The senior now ranks sixth in the country in the event.
The Irish also recorded three top-five finishes on day one.
The men finished second behind Connecticut.
The Notre Dame track team competed in day one of the Meyo Invitational on Friday evening.
Now in his 26th season at Notre Dame in 2013-14, Connelly not only serves as the head coach of the Irish women's cross country team, but also tutors the women middle distance and distance runners during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. As one of the longest tenured active assistants at the University, he is closely involved with all aspects of the Notre Dame track and field/cross country program and is known as one of the best coaches in the Midwest.
Since taking over the Irish women's cross country program during its infancy in 1988, Connelly has helped Notre Dame reach unprecedented heights, finishing among the top 10 at the NCAA Championship every season from 2002-05. Notre Dame also has garnered a trip to the NCAA awards podium twice, finishing in a program-best third place in 2002, followed by a fourth-place showing in 2004.
However, that hardly begins to scratch the surface of Connelly's accomplishments during his two-decade plus run at Notre Dame. The Irish women also have won three BIG EAST Conference titles and placed either first or second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional from 2001-05, and again in 2009. What's more, Notre Dame runners have collected 15 All-America honors since 1993 and finished with 28 all-BIG EAST cross country citations during the program's run in the league from 1995-2012.
On the track, the Notre Dame women's distance program has grown exponentially in recent years. Irish runners have earned 28 All-America certificates since 1994.
In addition, Notre Dame women's distance runners have garnered all-conference status 111 times and won 14 BIG EAST individual titles (as well as the 2003 distance medley relay crown) since 1995-96. The Irish runners also have played a critical role in three team titles at the BIG EAST Indoor Championship (2002, 2006, 2013) and two BIG EAST Outdoor Championship (2007, 2013), as well as nine runner-up finishes at conference meets (four indoor, five outdoor).
For his efforts, Connelly has been richly rewarded with numerous coaching honors. He was given the BIG EAST Women's Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year award three times (2002, 2003, 2005) and was part of the BIG EAST Women's Indoor Track & Field Coaching Staff of the Year three times (2002, 2006, 2013) and the BIG EAST Women's Outdoor Track & Field Coaching Staff of the Year twice (2007, 2013). He also was named Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2009 after the Irish won the region crown.
Connelly's distance runners helped the Irish women's program to a fourth-place finish at the 2009 BIG EAST Outdoor Championships, while the women's cross country squad finished sixth at the BIG EAST Championship with Lindsey Ferguson garnering all- conference honors. The Irish also returned to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2005.
In 2012, the women's track and field team finished fourth and second, respectively, at the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor meets, a marked improvement from a year earlier. Just one year later, the women's program won both crowns in their final year in the league.
Under Connelly's tutelage, Notre Dame's distance program was able to excel in 2007, playing a large role in helping the Irish win their first BIG EAST outdoor championship since joining the league in 1995-96. Connelly produced six top-eight finishers to bring in points for the Irish. The women's cross country team's season ended with a third-place finish at the BIG EAST Cross Country Championships and a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet, just shy of a bid to the national meet. The conference finish was the fifth consecutive top-three BIG EAST finish by the Irish women.
In 2007, Molly Huddle led the women's distance with a runner-up performance in the 5,000-meters at the BIG EAST indoor championships and a double crown at the BIG EAST outdoor championships in the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters, only the third multiple winner of the honor since its inception in 1993, and the first back-to-back recipient since former Irish All-American Liz Grow took the hardware in 2001 and 2002. Her outdoor performance earned her BIG EAST Outstanding Outdoor Track Performer honors. At the NCAA Mideast Regional meet, she went on to win her fourth consecutive 5,000-meter title, to pave her way to the national meet where she became a 10-time All-American after taking third in the 5,000 meters.
Connelly's charges were at the forefront of a historic run in 2005-06, as Notre Dame came within 10 points at the conference's outdoor meet of becoming the first school in 18 seasons to win the BIG EAST women's "triple crown" (cross country, indoor track, outdoor track). It all started with an impressive 25-point win at the BIG EAST Cross Country Championship, with the 34-point Irish performance being the best scoring outing by any league school since 1994. Notre Dame had four of the top eight runners in the field, giving the Irish their largest-ever crop of all-conference honorees.
That outing preceded a runner-up showing at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, where Notre Dame once again was dominant up front with four of the top 10 runners in the meet. The Irish then capped the 2005 season with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championship, highlighted by a program-best three All-America performances (Stephanie Madia, Huddle and Sunni Olding). In fact, Madia's third-place finish and time of 19:48.4 were the best-ever by a Notre Dame woman, while Huddle joined Lauren King as the second three-time women's cross country All-American in school history.
Moving indoors on the track for the 2005-06 season, Jacqueline Carter and Brianne Schmidt made excellent strides in the middle distances, notching school records in the 800- and 1,000-meter runs, respectively. Madia was strong at the longer distances, peaking well late in the year with two of the top-four 5,000-meter times in school history before earning her second All-America honor with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championship.
Huddle then took center stage during the 2006 outdoor season, posting the nation's fastest times at both 5,000- and 10,000-meters, and becoming only the second woman in BIG EAST history to win both races at the conference meet. She went on to be named the BIG EAST Outstanding Outdoor Track Performer, as well as the USTFCCCA Great Lakes District Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and won her third NCAA Mideast Regional 5,000-meter title in as many tries. Huddle's season ended just short of the brass ring, as she finished second in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Championships, still the best placement ever by an Irish women's track athlete in any event. She also garnered her ninth All-America citation.
In 2004, Huddle had one of the most prolific seasons in Irish track and field history. She was an All-American in the indoor 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs as well as the outdoor 5,000 meters. Connelly accompanied Huddle as she competed in the United States Olympic Trials, eventually finishing seventh in the 5,000 meters as the top non-professional/ collegian in the race. A year earlier, Connelly guided Huddle to All- America honors in the indoor 3,000 meters and outdoor 5,000 meters. Huddle capped that season by running away with the U.S. Junior 3,000-meter title at the national meet in Palo Alto, Calif.
Huddle qualified for the 2012 London Olympics in the 5,000m after finishing second at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She is the current American record holder at 5,000 meters, and competed at both the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Championships at 5,000 meters for the United States.
A 1983 Notre Dame graduate, Connelly ran both cross country and track for the Irish. Following his graduation, Connelly served as a graduate assistant coach under Joe Piane while working toward his master's degree in business.
In 1986, Connelly moved on to Syracuse as an assistant cross country and track coach. During his time in central New York, he coached the men's and women's middle distance and distance runners and managed recruiting duties for both programs.
A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Connelly and his wife, the former Donna Southerly, are the parents of two children -- daughter, Ali, and son, Brendan. Ali is a junior on the West Virginia University soccer team in 2013, while Brendan is a junior at South Bend's Saint Joseph High School.
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