The men’s cross country team traveled back to Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, Conn. for the 2013 NESCAC Championship meet, but were unable to defend last year’s conference title.
In 2012, one of the closest races in NESCAC history (31 points separated the top five schools), Tufts prevailed as NESCAC champions by three points over Middlebury with a low 66 points. However, defending their title this year would prove more difficult, as No. 23 Tufts faced off against No. 4 Middlebury and No. 6 Williams in what is arguably the strongest Div. III conference in the nation.
The Jumbos took third place with a solid 103 points, behind the Ephs, who won the meet with 51 points, and the Panthers, who had 62 points.
Williams placed their top five runners in the top 18, while Middlebury’s placed in the top 27 and Tufts’ in the top 30.
Once again, the Jumbos relied heavily on tight pack running, as they posted a 36-second 1-5 split in the competition. Senior Andrew Shapero took top honors for the Jumbos with his eighth place finish in 25:05.7, just missing the All-NESCAC First Team. Freshman Tim Nichols, the third freshman in the conference to cross the finish line, also garnered Second Team All-NESCAC honors by placing 14th in 25:20.4.
Sophomore Nick Guarnaccia and senior captain Ben Wallis finished third and fourth for the Jumbos, crossing the line together in 25th (25:36.4) and 26th place (25:37.0), respectively. Freshman Luke O’Connor was not too far behind, as he rounded out the scoring for the Jumbos by placing 30th overall in 25:41.1.
“We were ranked fifth going into the race,” Nichols said. “We all had the mindset to do the best we could to compete against Williams and Middlebury, who were ranked higher than us.”
“We definitely think we had a solid performance, and we knew Williams and Middlebury were two strong teams that would be tough to beat,” Guarnaccia added. “We lost a few seniors who helped us win this meet last year, so we’re happy with our third-place finish.”
Nichols also emphasized the role that progressive running played in the team’s strategy at the meet.
“I think all of us had the same mindset that we wanted to run progressive races,” Nichols said. “We wanted to stay relaxed and get out well, but be progressive throughout and pass people. Personally, I went out in the middle of the pack and tried to pick off as many people as I could throughout the race by hitting consistent splits.”
Nichols’ strong finish shows the promise of Tufts’ younger runners, who will continue to contribute and make progress throughout the rest of the season.
“Tim [Nichols] definitely had the best performance on the day,” Guarnaccia said. “He finished ahead of the guys he usually runs with, and he made the All-NESCAC team with his 14th-place finish, which was the highest finish ever by a Tufts freshman at the meet.”
The Jumbos’ knowledge of the course served them well at the meet. They were recently at the course for the Conn. College Cross Country Invitational, where the varsity harriers ran a workout.
“It was definitely an advantage to have already checked out this course a few weeks ago,” Guarnaccia said. “We’re lucky enough to be one of the few NESCAC teams that race this course, so we were able to pick our spots and check out the terrain weeks before the race.”
As for future Jumbo performances at the NESCAC meet, Nichols has high hopes for success.
“We’re a young team, and we think we have great potential and promise,” Nichols said. “We have some great seniors who will be leading us next year, so we think we’ll be successful if we keep positive.”
The postseason continues for the Jumbos with the ECAC meet next weekend, followed by the NCAA Division III Atlantic Regional Championship, where they hope to clinch another berth to the NCAA Division III National Championship meet.
“Runners 8-14 will run at ECACs. They want to win the entire meet to showcase our strong depth to the rest of the region,” Guarnaccia said. “After that, our varsity guys will race at Regionals and go for the win, but our main goal is to make it back to Nationals.”
Guarnaccia expressed optimism about Nationals.
“I think we can beat Williams and Middlebury this time around,” he said.