Dec. 14, 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 had a shot at the top goal on that list - becoming a national
champion. He and his teammates traveled to Bloomington, Ind., on Monday,
Nov. 22, for the national championship meet. Shay ran with some of the best
collegiate harriers in the country and became an All-American in the men's
championship race after placing 12th.
Constantly demanding more of himself, Shay was not satisfied with
that 12th-place finish.
"I am a little disappointed actually," Shay said after the 10K race
he ran in 30:46.10. "I thought I was in good position halfway through the
race but I got a cramp in my side. By the time it went away, I had fallen
to far back to catch the leaders. I just tried to pick people off one by
His All-American honor was just another chapter in the story of
accomplishments Shay put together in the 1999 cross country season. He
finished no lower than fourth in the five meets prior to the NCAA
championship. He started the season with his third consecutive victory in
as many tries at the National Catholic meet becoming the first male runner
to win the title three times in the 20- year history of the meet. The Notre
Dame Invitational was next, bringing with it some of the top competition in
the country. 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 as the national
championship, was Shay's next challenge. It provided the best competition
of the year to that point for Shay, who would finish fourth in the
"This year is the first year I felt I have improved every single
race," Shay said. "My freshman year, I felt I made it to the halfway point
and fell backward. Last year, I thought I made it a little past the halfway
point but fell backward again. This is the first year I felt I have
improved at good increments the entire season."
Shay flashed signs of that improvement at the 1999 BIG EAST
championship meet. He became the first Irish runner to win the BIG EAST
individual title and helped the Irish capture its second team BIG EAST
title since 1995. Shay relishes this victory a little more than the others
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 meters during the BIG EAST track season," Shay
explained. I had led all 24 laps until the last one when he outkicked 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 at the District IV meet in Terre Haute, Ind. Again, his
high finish allowed the Irish to lock up a bid to the national championship
The team invitation completed a team goal the Irish had set since
not receiving a spot in the NCAA field last season. It marked the first
time since 1991 the Irish did not attend the national meet. It provided
Shay and his teammates the perfect motivation over a summer of training.
"I am so proud of the team," Shay said. "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."
Shay has the unique ability to enter a cross country race with a
clear plan and execute it. He knows exactly what it takes to win each race.
"Cross country, you have to approach it as picking someone in the
field that you have to beat," Shay said. "Times are irrelevant because of
the different courses. You have to pick out the best guy in the race and
stick with him. About halfway through the race I can decide if I can go
with the best runners or hold back. Our team strategy is to go out a little
conservative and start to pick people off as they get tired."
Shay's 12th-place finish enabled the Notre Dame team to finish
eighth at the NCAA Championship. The team was not initially satisfied with
the placing, but coach Joe Piane knows that is just their competitive fire
"I think, each athlete will tell you he could have run better (in
the NCAA meet)," Piane said. "But isn't it great to be disappointed in
eighth place? There are over 300 cross country teams in the nation, to be
the eighth-best is a great accomplishment."