Sophomore Tim Nichols leads Tufts’ to fifth place finish at NESCAC Championship

Sophomore Luke O'Connor begins the second loop of the 8k course in the NESCAC Championship meet at Middlebury College. Annie Levine/The Tufts Daily

The men’s cross country team faced off against many of its top competitors at the NESCAC Championships meet on Saturday, and came away with a fifth place finish and an overall score of 115. Williams took first place for the 15th time in the championship’s history with an impressive low score of 39. Colby, Middlebury, and Amherst filled out the rest of the top five. The fifth-place finish was right where senior co-captain Marshall Pagano expected the Jumbos to be, and he was satisfied with the team’s progress.

“We beat a team ranked ahead of us in Bates, but we were pretty sure we could beat Bates,” Pagano said. “We were much closer to teams that beat us earlier in the year like Amherst, Colby, Middlebury … [I’m] definitely really pleased about that, we’re closing the gap. We’re all excited, we’re all happy. We’re in a good spot for regionals. We definitely have to show up and run well, but I think this was a step forward, and that’s all that we really wanted. Just one more step in the right direction and we’ll be on our way [to nationals].”

The conditions for the race were much better than expected. Sophomore Tim Nichols, Tufts’ top performer in the race, mentally prepared for bad weather all week, but was pleasantly surprised when the forecast proved to be wrong. The weather on Saturday was much milder than expected, and stayed around 40 degrees for most of the day.

“We ran the course the night before, and the field part of the course was pretty mushy, which makes for slow times and tough running, but the cold overnight weather and the … cooler conditions really firmed up the course and made it a pretty good day for running,” Pagano said.

According to Pagano, the Middlebury course is difficult under any conditions, and since the Jumbos run at Middlebury very infrequently, most of the team had not experienced the course before. The course features a large hill at the end of the first mile, then roughly two-and-a-half miles of wooded loops and small, steep hills. After completing the wooded loops, the course circles back to the large hill, followed by another lap through the woods and then a short straightaway to the finish.

Despite the difficult course, Nichols had a successful race. He placed 7th overall, earning a spot on the all-NESCAC first team, improving on his previous year’s 14th overall finish, where he made the all-NESCAC second team. Sophomore Luke O’Connor finished 14th overall and earned a place on the all-NESCAC second team.

Nichols started the race pacing himself with runners on par with the top ten nationally, but lost ground after the first mile. He said he hopes to make another jump next season and run with the lead pack in his next NESCAC race.

According to Pagano, the Jumbos strategy typically involves running as a pack, although this strategy did not work as well for this meet.

“We got out maybe a little farther back than we wanted to,” Pagano said. “We wanted to really be on the heels of the Amherst pack and the Middlebury pack, and we maybe gave them a little more room than we should have, but we got out well. We were really nicely packed which is what we wanted, because it’s just that much easier to hit your pace and to run your race when you’ve got your teammates around you. Ty [Enos], the lone first-year in the race, had a killer day, and I really attribute that to being able to tuck in to our pack … and let the older guys pull him along.”

Pagano said he considered this NESCAC Championship a particularly special meet, even compared to when the Jumbos won the meet in his sophomore year.

“There’s something about this team — maybe it’s because I’m a senior and a captain — I just feel so close to this team, more than in years past,” Pagano said. “I feel like this team hasn’t gotten a lot of respect from the rankings and the national view, and I think that we’re really proving people wrong,”

The Jumbos did just that over the weekend, developing a legitimate chance to earn a bid to Nationals with their strong performance at the NESCAC Championship. If the team is able to compete at an even higher level and perform like Pagano envisions, the Jumbos could have a strong showing at regionals, no doubt spearheaded by their talented sophomore duo.