Tufts traveled to Winneconne, Wis. on Saturday for the annual NCAA Div. III National Championships, hosted by nearby University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. On a very fast day, the Jumbos showed up to perform. Although the result was not quite what they were hoping for, the team was still able to place seventh overall, which is the second-highest finish by Tufts at the meet in program history. (The 2006 team finished fifth.) NESCAC rival Williams won the meet for the first time since 2004 with 86 points.
“Obviously it’s disappointing when you set a goal and don’t reach it, but we can’t be upset with the second-highest finish in program history,” senior tri-captain Audrey Gould said. “Cracking the top 10 at Nationals is a serious achievement, and it says something about the talent on our team that even on a less-than-perfect day, we could still accomplish that.”
On a cloudy day at the course at Lake Breeze Golf Club, temperatures hovered slightly above freezing. The six-kilometer course was very flat and featured spectator-friendly loops around fields. Energy during the race was high, as spectators rushed from one area of the course to the other just to attempt to watch every portion of the contest.
In her last collegiate cross country race ever, Gould paced the way for the Jumbos, as she has done the past four years. Her time of 21:57.00 was enough to give her 50th place, her best finish of her college career at the meet. Sophomore Brittany Bowman finished off a remarkable sophomore campaign by taking 82nd overall in 22:13.8. In her best race of the season, junior tri-captain Alice Wasserman finished right behind Bowman in 22:15.8, good enough for 84th overall. Like Gould, senior Olivia Beltrani also rounded out her Tufts career in excellent fashion. Beltrani ran 22:26.2 to take 117th overall in her final race for Tufts. Junior Lindsay Atkeson rounded out the scoring for the Jumbos, running a 22:32.0 for 128th overall. Juniors Kelly Fahey and Sam Cox capped off their great 2015 campaigns, running 22:38.6 for 145th and 22:51.4 for 178th, respectively.
“Having gotten seventh at Nationals is most definitely an honor … Yes, we came off of a different set of expectations, but those expectations need not reflect failure,” Beltrani said. “Instead, they show our capabilities, our motivation and our spirit of competition. I am proud to know how highly we were ranked and proud still to have finished seventh.”
The season overall was an incredible one for Tufts.
“As a whole, this is definitely the best season I have seen from our team. I think that we trained to peak during championship season and overall we accomplished that goal,” Gould said. “We saw consistent improvement and strong overall performances throughout. I am so impressed with our season as a whole.”
The team was able to place second at NESCACs to the eventual national champion Williams, where they earned an automatic berth to the national championships last weekend at the regional meet.
“The season, for me at least in a team sense, I would say was unprecedented,” Beltrani said. “Never have I had the opportunity to be on such a powerful, deep team. It was incredible to be surrounded by these ladies that I’ve known for so long and [to] see that when we crossed the line, we were capable of second in the NESCAC, second in the region and seventh in the nation. You know it takes a special group of talented runners to accomplish such a season.”
Although the team will feel a hard impact from the losses of Gould and Beltrani next season, as well as from classmates Lily Corcoran, Sydney Smith, Katie Kurtz, Annie Levine and Michele de Mars, they should be in good shape as five of their top seven runners will return. With leadership from a strong class of upcoming seniors including Wasserman, Fahey and Cox, the Jumbos will return stronger than ever and will hope to improve on this year’s finish at nationals.
“The team is going to be in great hands next year,” Gould said. “We have so much depth to fill in the gaps that the seniors will leave behind when we graduate, and I think the program is just going to continue getting better in years to come.”
But to the seniors on the team, Tufts cross country was more than just a team: it was a family.
“I don’t know what running after college will look like, but I do know that everything it will be for me will be propelled by my time on TUXC,” Beltrani said. “It has been marvelous to be a part of four unique teams during my time here, and I have no doubt that next year’s TUXC will find their niche and continue to excel. I’ve met the most incredible women in my life on this team, whose impact on my life extends far past the framework of just running.”
This sentiment was echoed by Gould.
“I am just so unbelievably proud of the work the team put in this season,” Gould said. “There was so much growth and improvement, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of such an amazing group of women. I don’t think it’s ever going to sink in that my Tufts cross country career is over. ”
After a few weeks off, the team will begin training for indoor track, which kicks off in January at the Gantcher Center with Tufts Invitational #1.