Jumbos finish runners-up at NESCACs

The women’s cross country team traveled to Wesleyan on Saturday for the annual NESCAC Championships, hoping they could shake off the demons of last year’s disappointing fifth place finish.

They did.

The No. 4 Tufts scored 66 points to take second overall for their best finish at the meet since 2006, defeating other nationally ranked teams such as Middlebury (third, 92 points) and Amherst (fourth, 113 points), but losing to perennial powerhouse No. 2 Williams, who posted a 30-point score and placed five runners in the top 10, an impressive accomplishment at a meet as large as the NESCAC Championships.

Senior co-captain Audrey Gould led the Jumbos on the day, taking sixth overall in a time of 22:07.10. Junior Kelly Fahey was right behind Gould, taking seventh in 22:08.70. Senior Olivia Beltrani, who has had a very impressive final campaign so far, was 15th overall and third for the Jumbos in 22:30.00. Sophomore Brittany Bowman and junior Sam Cox finished next for Tufts. Bowman took 18th overall in 22:43.30, and Cox took 20th in 22:47.40. Bowman and Cox have made important strides this season in training and racing, efforts that have clearly paid off for the Jumbos. Junior co-captain Alice Wasserman was sixth for Tufts, running 23:00.50 for 29th overall, while senior Sydney Smith was only half a second behind in 23:01.00.

“I have been reacting better to my training this year than I was last year,” Bowman said. “I came from a high school focused on low-intensity workouts, so the transition to high-intensity college training was hard, and a few months in, I got fatigued and couldn’t complete the season.”

The six-kilometer course was not a particularly flat one.

“The course was slanted, especially over the first 250 meters of the course, which definitely proved to be an obstacle for some of the teams placed in boxes or running in areas of the course that were more uphill or downhill than others,” junior Lindsay Atkeson, who placed 38th overall in 23:15.30, said. “Overall, I thought the course was manageable and also very beautiful with the New England autumn colors.”

The course brought runners along field loops and into a woods loop, which ended with a short but very steep hill, and finally spit them out onto a long straightaway to the finish.

“My strategy for this race was the strategy that I use for every race: employing a relaxed and confident mentality and having faith in the power of my training and teammates to pull me through the course of the race,” Atkeson said. “As a team, we focused on getting off the line in order to not get boxed in by our competitors, running in packs and being vocal.”

Bowman employed a very different strategy.

“I wanted to go out and be aggressive throughout the race without giving up,” she said. “My main goal this race was to feel as if I couldn’t have gone any faster…because in each of the three races earlier this season, I finished and thought that maybe I could have raced even harder. I didn’t want that at NESCACs, so I went out with my training group and tried to hang on.”

As they have done all season, the Jumbos were able to keep their No. 1 to No. 5 spread relatively tight, with only a 40-second gap between Gould and Cox. This has been the crucial difference between this season and the previous one. Last season, Tufts’ No. 1 to No. 5 spread was much larger, usually over a minute. This season, however, the front pack has gotten faster and tightened up, allowing Tufts to maximize its low scoring potential to a much greater degree.

Overall, the Jumbos were very happy with how they raced, even though the Ephs eventually got the best of them.

“We are very pleased with second place,” Bowman said. “Williams is a very strong team, and [it] ran a great race. I think as a whole team, we haven’t peaked yet, so I am hoping to be even more competitive with Williams at Regionals and Nationals once we are peaked. Regardless, we all ran great races at NESCACs, and I’m very happy with how we did.”

The varsity squad will have next weekend off, but some of the team will be traveling back to Williams for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships and will be looking to have an impressive race to end the season. The varsity team will next be in action in two weeks at the NCAA Div. III New England Championships at Conn. College, where it will hope to send its team to the national championships, held in Winnecone, Wisc. in three weeks.

“At ECACs this weekend we will race [No.] 8 through [No.] 14,” Bowman said. “We are a very deep team, so I think the group of runners racing will be very competitive and finish near the top.”