On Saturday, the women’s cross country team traveled a few miles down the road to Boston’s historic Franklin Park for the annual New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEICAAA) Championships, also known as Open New Englands. The Jumbos put themselves to the test against New England’s best at the Div. I, II and III levels. Overall Tufts had a successful day, as its varsity squad placed 16th overall and junior varsity squad placed eighth overall. Additionally, the Jumbos were able to take second overall in the NESCAC and third overall in Div. III in both the varsity race and the sub-varsity race.
Conditions were less than ideal at Franklin Park, with temperatures dipping below 50 degrees and heavy rain tearing up the course, but the races were quick nonetheless.
Franklin Park’s five-kilometer course is mostly flat for the entire three-and-one-tenth miles of its length, but it does include a 200-meter-long hill, dubbed “Bear Cage Hill” due to the abandoned bear cages from decades past at the hill’s peak. The first mile loops around “White Stadium,” while the second mile takes the race up the difficult hill. The third mile takes runners into a wooded area before concluding on the field where the race started.
Junior co-captain Audrey Gould led the Jumbos in the varsity race, running a time of 18:03.06 for 15th overall. Gould was the third fastest Div. III runner to cross the line, surpassed only by Middlebury senior Alison Maxwell and MIT sophomore Maryann Gong. She also avenged her loss to MIT sophomore Sarah Quinn, who beat Gould two weeks ago at Williams’ Purple Valley Classic but was only 28th overall on Saturday.
Sophomore Kelly Fahey and junior Olivia Beltrani, both of whom scored for the Jumbos, worked in tandem the entire race, passing many runners, especially down the famed Bear Cage Hill. Fahey eventually took over and was the second finisher for the Jumbos, running 18:46.16 for 73rd overall. Beltrani was not too far behind, as she kicked hard to take 84th overall in 18:50.51.
Sophomore Alice Wasserman also had a very good day on the course, as she was only six seconds behind Beltrani, riding a strong last mile to a sub-19-minute performance at 18:56.58 for 101st overall. Junior Michelle de Mars rounded out the scoring for the Jumbos, as she took 119th overall in 19:04.91.
“I think the conditions had little effect on the race, but they definitely kept me more focused because I knew that the weather was working against me,” Wasserman said.
The squad hopes that the solid finish will help them gain momentum as it steps into the postseason.
“Placing well at this meet is really going to motivate us through the postseason,” Wasserman said. “We’re getting fired up as NESCACs approaches, and we really want to go for it. These past few meets have been very encouraging.”
The Jumbos were also able to display their depth in the junior varsity race, in which they finished eighth overall. The freshmen led the way for the Jumbos in this one, as the first three runners to finish were all first-years. Freshman Margot Rashba led the way for the squad, running 19:24.70 for 40th overall. Freshman Prudence Sax was a few seconds behind with 19:30.11 for 44th overall, and classmate Sara Stokesbury worked off her teammate and finished in 53rd overall in 19:35.01. Senior Meghan Gillis (55th, 19:35.51), junior Lily Corcoran (56th, 19:35.73) and senior Catherine Madden (57th, 19:36.18) worked together to make passes throughout the race, and ended up finishing consecutively to round out the scoring for the Jumbos.
“Our strategy was to try and stay with people we had been working out with and to challenge ourselves,” Madden said. “We wanted to be uncomfortable in the middle of the race; we didn’t want to settle in.”
Bear Cage Hill, which can sometimes exhaust runners to the point of walking, seemed to have little effect on the Jumbos.
“Lily [Corcoran] and myself attacked the hill together, and gave each other words of encouragement before going up,” Madden said. “We tried to catch up to Margot [Rashba], whom we saw in front of us, and that motivated us to get over the hill even faster. The workout we did at Franklin Park last week allowed us to see where the hill started and ended, so that helped us in our race strategy.”
Madden believes the performances by both squads were definitely impressive, given the course conditions.
“Both teams did very well,” Madden said. “There were incredible performances by many girls. They outran all expectations, especially in the conditions we were in. In the varsity race, it was awesome to see Audrey [Gould] place in the top 15 and Alice [Wasserman] have an incredible race.”
The Jumbos will conclude the regular season next weekend at Conn. College for the annual Conn. College Invitational. The flat course has been historically fast, a fact that the Jumbos will hope to take advantage of to set some fast times before the NESCAC Championships at Middlebury on Nov. 1.
“To upset Middlebury at NESCACs will take a lot,” Wasserman said. “The girls that run there are really strong all around, but I think if we push each other and try to stay with our own front-runners, we have a good shot.”