Aug. 28, 2000
Youth versus experience.
Rookies against veterans.
These will be the themes of the 2000 Notre Dame women's cross country team. Depleted by the losses of Alison Klemmer (53rd at the 1999 NCAA cross country championship) and All-American JoAnna Deeter, the team will look to its seniors for leadership and its freshmen for immediate impact.
"I think we need two things," head coach Tim Connelly says.
"Some of the young people coming in will have to contribute right away. The freshmen need not be intimidated by that fact. Second, the upperclassmen need to continue developing. There were three sophomores who ran in our top seven last year and they need to continue improving."
The Irish started the 1999 season strong, with victories at the National Catholic and the Notre Dame Invitationals. They eventually qualified for the NCAA championship, but they ended with an unsatisfying 29th-place team finish.
"I was proud of the team for getting to the NCAAs last year," Connelly says.
"But I wasn't happy with the performance. Our goal is to get to the NCAA meet and do something while we are there."
Sophomore Jennifer Handley is the top returning monogram winner on Connelly's roster. The Barrie, Ontario, native was consistently the number-two Irish finisher in '99. Handley won the first collegiate cross country race of her career at the Valparaiso Invitational to open the 1999 season. She followed the win by finishing third at the National Catholic Invitational behind winning teammate Deeter, and helped her teammates take the team title.
"Jennifer Handley needs to continue developing to the next level," Connelly says.
"There were times last year when she showed she could be as good as everyone out on the course. She just needs to do that on a consistent basis."
Handley also finished sixth at the Notre Dame Invitational and 12th at the BIG EAST Championship, where the Irish took fifth place.
Joining Handley among the top returnees are seniors Chrissy Kunester and Erin Olson and junior Hilary Burn. Olson has flashed the ability to be among the top 30 in the region at times. Burn was sidelined with mononucleosis for the 1999 cross country season, but had a strong summer, is healthy and ready to compete this fall.
Kunester competed in four races last season and has shown improvement over her last three years at Notre Dame.
"The one senior who has continually gotten better is Chrissy," Connelly said.
"As a freshman, she wasn't even in the picture, but she has consistently improved each year. She knows that she is going to be counted on this season."
All of the upperclassmen will be challenged on the practice course by an impressive group of freshmen. Beth Androski, Jessica Campbell, Rachel Endress, Megan Johnson, Maggie Nelsen, Julia Schmidt and Melissa Webb all have the ability to finish among the top seven on the team at any meet.
"The freshmen are coming in with the mentality that they are going to contribute right away," Connelly says.
"The seniors are willing to step up to the challenge. If you look at our roster, there are one or two runners who really stand out. There are about 15 other kids who can run in our top seven. It is good that we are deep and have a lot of kids who can run well."
The improved depth of the team may cause the Irish harriers to re-think the racing plan of the team.
"We need to race with more of a pack mentality," Connelly says.
"In the last few years, we knew there were a couple of people who were going to put up a very low number. We might need to adjust our strategy this season."
The NCAA has announced that the women's championship race has been lengthened to 6,000 meters. The race had been 5,000 meters in the past. Connelly knows the length adjustment will also affect the race plan of his team.
"We need to race a little bit more intelligently and under control than we have in the past," Connelly says.
"It used to be that you went out of the starting area as fast as you could and tried to hold on at the end. We are the kind of a team that, when we run under control, we have more success."
The loss of his two top runners has not dimmed Connelly's view on the 2000 season.
"We are the kind of team on paper that, if you look at who we lost, you might say we are going to drop off," Connelly says.
"I think we are going to be a better team than we were a year ago."