Sophomore Kelly Fahey went into the NCAA Div. III Cross Country National Championship meet in Mason, Ohio determined to have a solid finish to her 2014 season. Her finish at nationals, however, exceeded expectations.
Fahey shocked New England Div. III cross country runners and fans by placing 31st at the meet in a time of 22:23.6, earning herself All-American honors on the slow and muddy course at the Golf Center at King’s Island. Fahey was the fifth New England runner and the second NESCAC runner to cross the line. She also defeated both the NESCAC individual champion, Alison Maxwell of Middlebury, and the runner up, Summer Spillane, also of Middlebury. For comparison’s sake, Fahey placed 32nd overall at the New England regional meet and 41st overall at the NESCAC Championships.
Fahey led Tufts to 16th place overall, 10 spots ahead of its national rank before the meet (U.S. No. 26). The Jumbos’ performance was tied for the best improvement upon the previous national ranking in the entire race. Behind Fahey, junior co-captain Audrey Gould battled tough in the mud and was able to take 73rd overall for the Jumbos in 23:03.4. Her classmate, junior Olivia Beltrani, also ran tough and closed hard to run 23:27.9 for 129th place. Sophomore Lindsay Atkeson, who was one of three runners to return from last year’s top seven, but missed most of the 2014 season due to injury, returned to form, running 23:39.7 for 161st overall. Sophomore Alice Wasserman rounded out the scoring for the Jumbos with her 180th place finish in 23:48.1. Also competing for the Jumbos were junior Michele de Mars, who ran 23:53.0 for 193rd place, and first-year Sara Stokesbury, who ran 24:55.1 for 264th overall.
“My strategy was to go out hard and keep in the back of my mind that the course was flat and I didn’t need to worry about hills,” Fahey said. “I got off the line well and in the race, I used other girls from the New England region as guides to move up on the field. I also thought I did a pretty good job taking wide turns to avoid the mud.”
Course conditions were not completely ideal for racing. Temperatures were in the high 40s, but recent rain and snow, as well as damage done to the course by the men’s race, had turned the course into a mud pit.
“The course was extremely flat and almost entirely grass, which was a huge change from the past few weeks,” de Mars said. “However, since the course had been covered in snow on Monday, the ground was wet and very slippery, which made footing difficult. The turns had to be taken very slowly, and it was important to stay on the outside to avoid slipping.”
“The warm weather definitely made us feel more relaxed about racing, but the mud was a bit of a challenge,” Fahey said.
This weekend, Tufts perhaps had one of its best performances of the season, as the team improved greatly over its fifth-place effort at NESCACs and its sixth-place finish at the Div. III New England Regional. The Jumbos truly looked like the team that they exemplified in the early parts of the season, when they were ranked as high as U.S. No. 10.
“I think this weekend we went in much more relaxed and confident in our ability to perform well as a team,” de Mars said. “Rather than putting pressure on ourselves, we went in wanting to prove what we knew we were capable of. It was our chance to show the nation that we belonged to be among the best teams.”
The Tufts fans, colloquially known as the ‘crazies’, also made the venture out to Ohio in rental vans, leaving campus at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, driving straight through the night, and arriving at the course five minutes before the men’s race despite getting caught in an ice storm. Their energy helped catapult the team to a top-20 finish.
“The fans were lined up everywhere along the course, and the crazies were there for it all,” Fahey said. “Their energy, as well as the energy from the other runners in the race, truly swept us along to a solid finish.”
With only three seniors on the roster (Catherine Madden, Meghan Gillis and co-captain Caroline Kimball-Katz), Tufts will be returning the majority of its roster next year, including its entire top seven. With improvement from the entire roster, the Jumbos could be looking at at least a top-10 finish at nationals next year.
“All of the girls who raced this weekend will be returning, and we are hoping to be even stronger next year,” de Mars said. “We have a lot of young talent on the team, and I think we are excited to work hard in the off-season and be ready to compete together next fall. If we put in the miles and stay healthy, I have no doubt we will come back ready to fight for top 15.”
“It is definitely a confidence booster that all of our top seven are returning,” Fahey said. “But we still need to keep in mind that teams like MIT also aren’t losing many seniors, so we still need to be at the top of our game and need to continue to improve.”
After a few well-deserved weeks off, the team will begin preparations for the indoor track season, which starts next semester.