Nov. 19, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Ryan Shay has accomplished many of the goals he set for himself since
arriving on campus in 1997.
A junior on the Notre Dame Men's Cross Country team, Shay is
ready to take a shot at the top goal on that list - becoming a national
champion. He and his teammates will travel to Bloomington, Ind., on
Monday, November 15 for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
An impressive 1999 cross country season has established Shay as
one of the favorites to win this year's meet.
"There are a lot of people saying I could finish top five, or
even win the race," Shay says, "but I realize it is not going to be
Shay, who has finished no lower than fourth in the five meets he
has run this year, has had one of the top season for and Irish harrier
in recent memory. He started the season with his third consecutive
victory in as many tries at the National Catholic meet, becoming the
first male runner in the 20-year history of the meet to win three
titles. In his next meet, at the Notre Dame Invitationa, which
attracted some of the nation's top cross country runners, Shay led Notre
Dame to a third-place finish and became the first Irish runner to win
the individual title since Bill Clark in 1964.
The Pre-National meet, held on the same course the national
championship will be run on in Bloomington, was his next test. Against
a strong and compeititive field, the Central Lake, Mich., native finish
"This year is the first year I felt I have improved every single
race," Shay says. "My freshman year I felt I made it to the half way
point and fell backward. Last year I thought I made it a little past the
half way point but fell backward again. This is the first year I felt I
have improved at consistent increments the entire season."
Shay flashed signs of that impressive improvement at the 1999
BIG EAST Championship meet when he became the first Irish runner to win
the BIG EAST individual title and help his team capture its second BIG
EAST crown since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995. Shay relishes
that victory a little more than the others this season because it gave
him a little piece of revenge on a BIG EAST rival.
"That victory was satisfying because Keith Kelly from Providence
had beat me in the 10,000 during the BIG EAST track season," Shay
explains. "I had led all 24 laps until the last one when he out-kicked
me. The (cross country race) was exciting because it was a come from
behind victory for me. Kelly had a 100 meter lead after we came out of
the first set of turns in the woods. I knew if I could close half the
distance in the open, I could catch him during the second series of
trails in the woods. Eventually I did overtake him to win the race."
Shay would continue his string of impressive runs with a
second-place finish in the District IV meet, run a week ago in Terre
Haute, Ind. Again, his high finish allowed the Irish to lock up a high
finish in the field and receive a bid to the national championship meet.
The team invitation completed a team goal the Irish had set
after not receiving a spot in the NCAA field last season. It was the
first time since 1991 that Notre Dame did not qualify for the meet. The
disappointment of not participating as a team provided the perfect
motivation over a summer while training.
"I am so proud of the team," Shay says. "We basically have the
same team from last year. We went into the season with a chip on our
shoulder -- we wanted to prove to people that last year was a fluke and
we have done that. It is a credit to the work the guys put in over the
summer. Our goals were to strengthen ourselves for an at-large bid at
the pre-nationals, win the BIG EAST, and get an invitation to the
national meet. We did it all."
The experience of running on the Bloomington course in the
Pre-National meet gives Shay and his teammates an extra advantage.
"This will be my third time running the course," Shay says. "It
is one that my teammates andI like. It's somewhat hilly and its close
by so it takes away some of the stress of travelling."
Ready for the challenge of going up against the nation's best,
Shay is looking forward to Monday's race. He knows and understands what
it will take to win the race.
"As a cross country runner, you pick out someone in the field that you
have to beat," Shay says "Times are irrelevant because of the different
courses. What you have to do is just concentrate on sticking by the best
guy in the race. Midway through the race, I make my decision to go
after him or hold back.
"I like the (Bloomington) course a lot. At the pre-national meet
I was moving up on the leaders between the seven and eight kilometer
mark. In the nationals, there is an extra two kilometers added to the
race. I'm usually a runner who finishes very strong, especially on this
type of uphill course. Our team's strategy is to be conservative at the
start and then pick people off as they begin to tire."
Considered one of several favorites in the race, if Shay can win
the individual title, he would become the first Irish harrier to the
NCAA crown since 1957. And that fete would certainly cap off one of
the greatest accomplishments for Shay at Notre Dame.