Men’s Cross Country | Young Jumbos take flight at Williams Invitational

Boosted by a trio of top−five finishes from new additions, the men’s cross country team finished third out of 18 teams at the Williams College Invitational on Saturday.

Sophomore Matt Rand led the Jumbos and he continues to show that he can stick with the top runners in New England. Rand took sixth in the field of 198 runners, crossing the finish line on the 8,000−meter course in a time of 26:30.

In his second race for Tufts, sophomore Tyler Andrews proved the importance of his addition to the squad with his second top−five finish in as many races this season. Andrews was Tufts’ second−fastest runner, running 27:02 to take 20th. Freshman Liam Cassidy and sophomore Kyle Marks were right behind with times of 27:06 and 27:07, taking 22nd and 23rd, respectively.

Freshman Ben Wallis rounded off the Jumbos’ scorers, taking 35th in a time of 27:21.

Though Tufts rested some of its key contributors Saturday — including senior co−captain Jeff Ragazzini, Tufts’ second−fastest racer last weekend — the less−experienced runners showed their ability to race alongside the Jumbos’ best, adding a new depth to the squad.

“I think we should be really happy with our race,” Marks said. “Our top five were all freshmen and sophomores, and we had some of our best runners not even racing, but we put together a really solid team performance and had a really good pack.”

Saturday’s event was the first 8k for most freshmen on the team. The group expects to only improve over the course of the season.

“I thought the freshmen that ran their first 8k, like Liam and Ben who were three and five for the team, came out pretty big,” Marks said. “They’ve come pretty highly touted so it’s good to see them put together the performances they have.”

Tufts tied for third with Fordham in the field of 18 squads, scoring 106 points. With the Jumbos’ sixth runner finishing faster than Fordham’s, the Jumbos won the tiebreaker in the overall score.

MIT and Keene State tied for first, each scoring 90 points.

Even while resting some stalwart performers, the Jumbos were able to defeat all five other NESCAC schools in the race.

“It was a pretty good preview of the Div. III New England and NESCAC schools,” Andrews said.

“I think seven of the top 10 New England schools were there, he said. “Some of the schools like Williams and Amherst weren’t racing some of their varsity squads, but MIT and Keene were, so we know we definitely could be right up there with them.”

The Tufts squad will return to Williamstown in November to run the NCAA New England Regional meet on the course.

“It was really good to get out and check out the course before Regionals for all the new kids,” Andrews said. “I definitely learned a lot about how I should run that course.”

The squad will rest this upcoming weekend before competing at the All−New England Championships held at Franklin Park on Oct. 9.

The meet will prove unique for the Tufts squad, with a wider and more competitive field filled with Div. I, II and III athletes. The Jumbos will get a chance to see where they stand against many of their Div. III rivals.

“I think after the Williams meet and after this next meet, we’ll have a fairly decent idea” of where we stand in the region, Marks said, “but I think we’re going to be a team that peaks for the right meets at the end of the season.”

Still early in the year, the Jumbos are optimistic. They are beginning to translate their work this summer into their races and feel that they are only starting to tap their own potential.

“It’s a really exciting time to be part of this team,” Andrews said of the young squad. “Right now we have so many young kids on this team who have so much talent — both the Class of 2013 and the Class of 2014.

“There are just a lot of kids who are really passionate about running, and then we have a lot of upperclassmen who are good role models about training and living healthy outside of running,” Andrews continued.

“That really rubs off on these younger kids,” he said.