The Notre Dame track team competed in day one of the Meyo Invitational on Friday evening.
In 1889, track and field became the second varsity sport in school history. Now, 123 seasons later, student-athletes continue to represent the Fighting Irish across the nation on the track, in the field and on the cross country course.
After a year as an assistant, Joe Piane has led the Irish for the last 37 campaigns and is the longest active tenured coach at Notre Dame. Piane begins his 38th season under the Golden Dome in the fall of 2012.
Piane's tenure is now the second longest of any coach in Fighting Irish history, trailing only baseball coach Jake Kline's 42 seasons (1934-75). His teams continue to compete at the highest level, as the men's cross country team advanced to the NCAA Championships for the 21st time in 28 seasons in 2011. The squad placed 24th in the nation and saw Jordan Carlson, Jeremy Rae and Martin Grady earn all-Region honors.
The 2011-12 season also turned out to be a great one for the Irish on the track. The men's squad saw Jonathan Shawel, Chris Giesting, Randall Babb and Jeremy Rae win the national championship and earn All-America honors in the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships, marking the 22nd-consecutive season at least one men's runner earned All-America status. Pole vaulter Kevin Schipper also earned All-America honors at the national indoor meet after finishing fourth. Notre Dame finished in 12th place with 15 points.
The Irish swept the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor championships, winning their fifth indoor crown and their eighth outdoor title. A total of 10 individual or relay titles helped Notre Dame cruise to victories at both meets.
On the women's side, the program made great strides, placing fourth at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships, and second at the BIG EAST Outdoor Championships after placing eighth during the indoor season and 10th during the outdoor season in 2011. The Irish won three individual or relay titles between the two meets.
Maddie Buttinger turned in an All-American performance at the NCAA Indoor Championships, placing third in the pentathlon to help the Irish to a tie for 38th place with six points. During the outdoor season, Rebecca Tracy was named second team All-America in the 1,500m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Piane's record at Notre Dame speaks for itself. Just consider the accomplishments Notre Dame athletes have made under Piane's watchful eye:
Men's cross country runners have earned All- American status 26 times, with Patrick Smyth taking home the honor in 2008.
A Notre Dame men's cross country runner has appeared at the NCAA Championship meet in each of the past 22 years, while the men's team has made the trip 21 out of the past 28 years.
The Notre Dame men's cross country team has finished in the top-10 at the NCAA meet in 11 of the past 23 seasons, highlighted by third-place finishes in 1990 and 2005 (matching the program's best showing since winning the 1957 NCAA title).
The Irish men's cross country team has won five BIG EAST Conference titles since joining the league in 1995, including crowns in 2004 and 2005. What's more Notre Dame men's runners have earned all-BIG EAST honors 44 times, with a school- record five runners receiving that distinction in `05.
The Irish men's track and field team has earned 82 All-America citations since 1974 (with Jonathan Shawel, Chris Giesting, Randall Babb and Jeremy Rae earning the honors in the distance medley relay and Kevin Schipper in the pole vault in 2012), while the women's team has received 46 such accolades since 1994 (most recently Maddie Buttinger and Rebecca Tracy in 2012). Combined, Piane has helped mentor 128 track and field All-Americans (and 154 overall when including men's cross country honorees) during his tenure.
Both the Notre Dame men's and women's track and field teams were champions in 2007 with the Irish men taking the indoor title and the Irish women claiming their first outdoor team championship. The men also claimed the 2008 and 2009 BIG EAST outdoor titles and the 2010 and 2012 BIG EAST indoor and outdoor titles. Overall the men's team has won 13 BIG EAST titles (five indoor/eight outdoor), while the women's squad has hoisted the hardware three times (two indoor/one outdoor). A model of consistency, the men's team has finished in the top three at the indoor and outdoor meets in 33 of a possible 34 meets, while the women have finished in the top-three 18 times out of 34 opportunities.
In the school's 17-year BIG EAST membership (1995-96 to present), Notre Dame athletes have won 151 conference individual or relay titles in track and field and cross country, with 10 student-athletes named the conference's outstanding track or field performer at its indoor or outdoor championship meets.
A distance-coaching specialist, Piane is recognized across the nation as one of the best in the business. He has been named NCAA Division I National Cross Country Coach of the Year on two different occasions (1987 and 2001) while garnering five district/regional coach-of-the-year honors and nine league cross country coach-of-the-year plaques. In total, Piane and his track and field staff have earned 16 BIG EAST Staff of the Year awards.
Individually, Piane and his assistants at Notre Dame produced six All-Americans in track and field in 2009 with three during the indoor season and three during the outdoor season. Mary Saxer became Notre Dame's first-ever women's pole vault All-American, earning her first All-America honor at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She earned her second All-America citation at the outdoor meet later that season. Joanna Schultz earned her first All-America honor with an eighth-place finish in the 400 meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Jaclyn Espinoza finished third in the discus at the outdoor championships to earn her first All-America recognition as well. Smyth earned his sixth and seventh All-America honors in 2009. His combined seven All-America honors are the third most in Irish men's track and field/cross country history behind only Ryan Shay (nine) and Luke Watson (eight).
Piane's success has not just been in the present, as three of his more successful pupils in recent years have been 10-time All-American Molly Huddle (2007), Shay (2001) and Watson (2002).
Huddle finished her career under Piane with ten All-America certificates, a record for the most All-America selections by a Notre Dame athlete in any sport. The Elmira, N.Y., native had seven career BIG EAST championships, including back-to-back double victories in the 5,000-meters and the 10,000-meters in her last two seasons. Her seven championships are the most by any Irish woman and she joins former student-athlete Liz Grow as Notre Dame's only athletes to be named the BIG EAST Outstanding Outdoor Track Performer in two consecutive years (2006, 2007). She currently holds four Irish school records (indoor 3,000-meters & 5,000-meters/outdoor 5,000-meters & 10,000-meters). Huddle made news in the summer of 2011, when she set an American women's record in the 5,000 meters. In 2012 she qualified for the London Olympics in the 5,000m after finishing second at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
In 2001, Piane helped distance specialist Shay compile one of the greatest track seasons in Notre Dame history. The Central Lake, Mich., resident won the BIG EAST indoor 5,000-meters, the conference outdoor 5,000-meters and 10,000-meters and finished off the season in legendary style by becoming Notre Dame's first individual NCAA champion since 1972 by taking first place in the 10,000 meters (29:05.44) at the NCAA Outdoor Championship in Eugene, Ore. Shay moved on to become one of the best marathon runners in the country, winning five U.S. titles as well as USA Running Circuit (USARC) titles in 2003 and 2004. Tragically, Shay's life was cut short as he died suddenly during the running of the 2008 U.S. Olympic marathon trials in New York City.
Shortly after helping steer Shay to the top of the college running mountain, Piane had similar success with Watson. Both men had set their sights on breaking the four-minute mile barrier at the Meyo Invitational in 2002, hoping that Watson would become just the second Irish runner to crack the mark. Piane helped assemble an outstanding field for the race, which was arguably the highlight of the entire collegiate indoor season. Watson did his part, scorching past the field in the final straight away to win in 3:58.83, easily a school-record time and briefly the fastest mile run in the world during the indoor season. Watson eventually moved on to garner All-America honors in the indoor mile, indoor 3,000-meters and outdoor 5,000-meters as well as taking home BIG EAST Championships in the mile, 3,000-meter steeplechase and outdoor 5,000-meters. In the summer of 2006, Watson returned to his alma mater as a member of the Irish men's distance/cross country coaching staff.
With Piane at the helm, the Notre Dame men's cross country team has enjoyed six of its most successful seasons in the program's history during the 2000's. In 2000, Piane helped the Irish recover from the loss of Shay due to injury and earn a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championship meet.
With Shay back on the team in `01, Notre Dame achieved its highest-ever national ranking (fourth), won the BIG EAST Championship (Piane and his staff earned the league's Coaching Staff of the Year award) and ended up sixth at the national meet to give the Irish (at the time) their highest team finish since 1993.
In 2004, Notre Dame threatened to eclipse its best-ever ranking, as Piane deftly guided his charges from an unranked start all the way to a BIG EAST title and a No. 5 national ranking before placing 11th at the NCAA Championship. For his efforts, Piane and his aides garnered a second BIG EAST Men's Cross Country Coaching Staff of the Year plaque. That set the stage for 2005's successful run that culminated in Notre Dame's return to the NCAA awards podium for the first time since 1990.
In 1985, Piane was named a member of the United States National Track staff. As such, he was one of 40 collegiate coaches given the opportunity to coach a United States squad in international competition. During the summer of 1987 he did just that, guiding a team of American all-stars in meets held in England and Ireland. Upon the conclusion of the 1991 Notre Dame track season, Piane once again faced international competition as he was appointed coach of the U.S. Pan American juniors team for the games in Kingston, Jamaica.
Piane became Midwest regional chairman for United States Olympic Development in the area of track and field in 1984. Piane's other Olympic preparation experience came in `85 when he coached the North team in the National Sports Festival. He also coached the U.S. team against England in Birmingham, England.
Piane is the creator of Notre Dame's National Catholic Championship, an annual meet held on campus since 1980. The Irish running program continues to be a rapidly-growing entity thanks to Piane's achievements. Continually searching for greater challenges, he also founded the Meyo Invitational and the Alex Wilson Invitational, both traditional indoor Notre Dame track and field meets that invite in elite track and field athletes and teams from around the country.
A 1969 graduate of Loras College, Piane ran both track and cross country for four years at the Dubuque, Iowa, institution. He captained Loras' undefeated cross country squad as a senior, while excelling in middle distance events during the track season. He was inducted into the Loras College Athletics Hall of Fame in the fall of 2002.
Piane began his impressive coaching career in 1970. Working for the Peace Corps, he coached track and field and cross country at both the regional and national levels in the North African country of Morocco. Piane guided a top-ranked junior cross country team, sending three runners to Cambridge, England, for the International Cross Country Championship (now known as the IAAF World Championship) in 1972, where Morocco finished third. Several of those Moroccan runners went on to compete at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany, and one advanced to the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Canada.
After returning to the United States in July 1972, Piane assisted the track and cross country programs at Western Illinois. During that time he earned a master's degree in physical education.
Born Aug. 6, 1947, in Westchester, Ill., Piane joined the Notre Dame staff in 1974 as an assistant track coach and physical education instructor with plans to stay on for just one year. He was named head track and cross country coach the following season.
Piane and his wife, Mimi, reside in South Bend, with their son, Nick.