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    Irish Cross Country Kicks Off Season At Valparaiso Invitational (season preview)

    FIGHTING IRISH Senior two-time All-American Patrick Smyth will lead a youthful Irish men's cross country squad in 2008.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Senior two-time All-American Patrick Smyth will lead a youthful Irish men's cross country squad in 2008.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Sept. 5, 2008

    2008 Notre Dame Cross Country Video Preview

    The Notre Dame men's cross country team will look to make its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, while the women's squad hopes to rebound from injuries and illness, as they both kickoff the 2008 season at the Crusader Invitational, hosted by Valparaiso, Friday.

    "Cross country should be pretty solid this season," Irish head coach Joe Piane said.

    After graduating four of their top seven runners, the men's team will have to rely on several sophomores, who gained a year of experience competing as freshmen last season.

    "Men's cross country is going to be a little bit thinner than what we were last year, because we graduated our Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 runners, but we have some very, very good sophomores that were not in the top seven last season," Piane said.

    Leading the '08 Irish is senior Patrick Smyth, who earned his second All-America honor with a 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2007.

    "We're starting off with a very, very good athlete up front in Patrick Smyth," Piane said.

    Smyth competed in four meets for the Irish last season. He ran the Notre Dame Invitational in 23:44 to finish second and followed that with a fifth-place showing at the Pre-National Meet, covering the course in 23:18. Smyth earned all-BIG EAST honors after completing the league meet in 23:28 for a third-place finish. He won the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in 30:22 before finishing 15th at the NCAA Championships in 30:05.

    Behind Smyth will be junior Jake Walker.

    "Jake did well last year in cross country and competed well indoors at the BIG EAST meet. He was injured for the outdoor season, but he should be a factor for us this year," Piane said.

    Walker's top finish came at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, where he placed 14th with a time of 31:14.

    Leading the pack of sophomores is Dan Jackson, who has six collegiate meets under his belt. Jackson finished second in his Irish debut, covering the National Catholic Championships course in 24:50. Classmate Paul Springer finished just behind Jackson in third at 24:53.

    "We have two young freshmen that I think can really make a contribution - Jordan Carlson, who is the fourth-best high school miler in the country and Joe Miller," Piane said.

    For the women's squad, sophomore Marissa Treece and junior Lindsey Ferguson will lead the Irish this season.

    "Our top two student-athletes for most of last fall in cross country were Lindsey Ferguson and Marissa Treece. They both came back really fit, so we're expecting them to be two of our top runners," women's head coach Tim Connelly said.

    As a freshman, Treece won the National Catholic Championships, her first collegiate race, in 17:24. Ferguson was just 25 seconds behind her in fourth.

    Ferguson earned all-BIG EAST honors with a 14th-place performance at the league meet, clocking in at 21:13. Treece was not far behind, covering the course in 21:35 to finish 26th.

    Treece also competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March as part of the U.S. Junior National team.

    The Irish will also turn to seniors Heidi Rocha and Becca Bauman for solid contributions.

    "Two years ago, Heidi was really just a solid contributor for us. She came back injured last fall and we struggled without her," Connelly said. "She's healthy and fit now and she's someone we expect to be a contributor.

    Bauman competed in five meets for the Irish, finishing 19th in 18:41 at the National Catholic Championships. She finished 43rd at the BIG EAST Championships with a time of 22:11.

    "Becca was a good, solid contributor for us last year and should be again this year," Connelly said.

    Sophomore Abby Higgins will also play a major role this season, after competing in all six meets for the Irish as a freshman.

    "Abby Higgins, as a freshman, got thrown into the mix because of injuries and we didn't expect to have to do that. Now, she's a year older and a year better, and, again, another athlete that did a really good job on the track for us."

    Higgins opened her collegiate career with a sixth-place finish at the Valparaiso Invitational, clocking in at 19:27. She was also 10th at the National Catholic Championships and finished 61st in 22:27 at the BIG EAST meet.

    Connelly and the Irish will also look to senior Emily Wauford, junior Beth Tacl and sophomore Theresa Cattuna for contributions this season.

    The men's and women's teams will look to defend their Crusader Invitational titles Friday, as both teams took home first place at the '07 meet.

    The women's race gets underway at 5 p.m. CDT with the men heading out at 5:45 p.m. CDT.

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