Aug. 28, 2000
The 1999 Notre Dame men's cross country team achieved its goals.
Head coach Joe Piane always has told his troops that winning the BIG EAST Conference meet and placing well at the NCAA championship should be the number one and two goals for the Irish cross country team.
Consider the 1999 mission a success.
Piane's squad won its second BIG EAST cross country championship in three years last season, finished second at the District IV meet and took eighth place at the NCAA championships.
Perhaps higher goals are in store for the team this season.
Five Irish runners who were in and out of the top seven finishers on the 1999 roster return for the 2000 season. Notre Dame also features the return of its top two harriers from a year ago, senior All-American Ryan Shay and 2000 NCAA championship meet steeplechase competitor Luke Watson.
"We have some outstanding kids up front," Piane says of his 2000 roster.
"They will not be intimidated running any meet on our schedule after competing at the NCAA meet last year."
Shay competed in six cross country races in 1999, winning three of them. He became the first runner to win three consecutive National Catholic individual titles and helped the team win its fifth straight National Catholic crown. Shay continued his string of impressive performances by becoming the first Irish harrier since Bill Clark in 1964 to win the Notre Dame Invitational. It was an impressive streak of firsts, but Shay would end the season in even more spectacular fashion.
On Oct. 29, 1999, Shay became the first Notre Dame runner to win an individual BIG EAST cross country title. He followed that performance by finishing second at the District IV meet and 12th at the NCAA championships. He even led a portion of the NCAA race until he suffered a cramp and was forced to lose a bit of ground to the leaders. His 12th-place finish earned him All-America accolades.
He is not alone among the top runners on the Irish roster, though.
Sean Zanderson, Patrick Conway, Marc Striowski and Watson are among some of the top returnees for the Irish.
"Luke Watson was at the NCAAs for the steeplechase and Marc Striowski qualified for the NCAAs after showing some tremendous improvement," Piane says.
"Pat Conway should also make a real contribution after a solid track season last year."
Watson, now a junior, was consistently the second Irish runner across the finish line after Shay. He was right behind his teammate at the National Catholic (they finished first and second) and also took third place at the BIG EAST championship. Striowski won the 1999 Valparaiso Invitational and finished 11th at the BIG EAST championship.
The Irish also feature a strong freshman class that is expected to have an immediate impact.
"Todd Mobley is a tough little distance man," Piane says.
"Brian Kerwin was the New Jersey state cross country champion and one of the best freshmen coming out of the East Coast. The future looks very bright."
Repeating the BIG EAST championship will not be an easy assignment. The conference is perennially loaded with cross country talent and the 2000 season will not be an exception. The Irish will be hard-pressed to repeat their 43 total points scored at the 1999 championship meet.
"Providence and Georgetown will be very good," Piane says.
"Villanova is also much improved. One of our goals is to run well at the BIG EAST meet and we have some kids back from previous years that are going to make some contributions toward that goal."
Notre Dame will host the traditional National Catholic and Notre Dame Invitational home meets on Burke Memorial Golf Course on Sept. 9 and Oct. 6, respectively. The team also will travel to the Oct. 14 Pre-National Championships in Ames, Iowa, the site of the 2000 NCAA cross country championship.
"The Notre Dame Invitational will be very good this year," Piane said.
"It is not as deep as the NCAA meet, but it will be among the best meets in the nation."
The Irish also enjoy a wealth of talent in their underclassman ranks entering the season. Many of the top runners will return in 2001, possibly tempting Piane to raise the expectations and goals of the team even higher.
"Most of the top runners are returning next year," Piane says.
"If we have a solid season this year, we should be a great team next year."
The goals were simple last year - place well in the BIG EAST and the District IV meet, then compete hard in the NCAA championships. The 1999 team met those goals, but the same athletes that were not satisfied with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA meet a year ago make up the team this season. Only Piane and his team know what goals they have in mind for 2000.