On Nov. 21, Tufts wrapped up its season at the 2015 NCAA Div. III Men’s Cross Country Championship at Winneconne, Wis. The team placed 17th overall out of 32 teams with a score of 433, six points ahead of 18th-place Carnegie Mellon and 13 points behind 16th-place Wesleyan. Wisconsin-Eau Claire won the meet with a score of 135.
Junior Tim Nichols ran the best meet for Tufts, finishing 19th individually with a time of 24:46.20 over eight kilometers and earning All-American Honors. His performance was the best finish for a Jumbo in the national championship since Matt Rand finished 19th in 2011.
“My season finished well, [and] I was lucky enough to reach All-American status at nationals, which I was happy with,” Nichols said.
The NCAA Championship meet, however, was a troubling one overall for Tufts.
“The NCAA championships were a bit tough with a couple guys getting caught in a pileup and needing post-race stitches,” coach Michael Schmidt said. “But they handled the adversity well, and aside from that road bump, the group exceeded expectations tremendously.”
At the very beginning of the race in Wisconsin, three of the team’s runners were involved in a pileup and were trampled on, which negatively affected their performance. Junior Luke O’Connor needed stitches in his head, and first-year Christian Swenson had stitches on his back. Despite that setback, both O’Connor and Swenson completed the race. O’Connor ended up finishing second for Tufts with a time of 25:22.50.
Despite the rare circumstances of the race, the season was a success for the Jumbos.
“The team progressed very strongly through the season, with the guys racing their best at championship time in the end of the year,” Schmidt said. “They are a close group and worked off of each other well in races, nicely packing together and pushing the tempo as a unit in the second half of the year.”
The season was full of great moments, despite the injuries that plagued the team throughout the season.
“The group elevated expectations through the year, week by week, always someone putting together a big race and keeping momentum rolling along,” Schmidt said. “We had some injuries early on in the season, as well as a couple scattered through the middle. In the future, as always, we’re looking for the best balance of heavy training with health through a full year of running.”
The team finished in first place at the Bates Invitational to start off the season on Sept. 19, came in third out of 11 teams at the NESCAC Championship on Oct. 31 and finished third again out of 55 teams at the NCAA Regional Championship on Nov. 14.
“In terms of what the group was able to accomplish, the season was undoubtedly a success; we have a huge first-year class that has been well-integrated and is starting to figure out collegiate cross-country,” Schmidt said. “Top to bottom, the guys ran PRs and made big strides from prior seasons; we placed better than last year at all our big championship meets, and we qualified for NCAAs for the fifth year in a row.”
Nichols also commented on the size and talent of the first-years.
“Personally, my season highlight would have to be breaking 27 min. in the 8K at the Connecticut College Invite on Oct. 17,” first-year Hiroto Watanabe said. Watanabe was part of a standout first-year group that should be able to carry the team in the foreseeable future.
Schmidt and assistant coach Jamie Norton helped the group stay afloat as they dealt with hurdles and setbacks en route to a successful finish, according to Nichols.
“Because of some shuffling around, Schmidt was placed as interim head coach, which he completely deserved,” Nichols said. “Not only did he have our training in mind, he also did a great job bringing our team together and highlighting great performances throughout the season.”
Nichols also noted that this Tufts team is the best it has been since he joined, and that it has the potential to be even better next year.
“For the first time in recent years, we will return the majority of our NCAA lineup (six of eight travelers) and a particularly strong group at the front,” Schmidt said. “Next year’s team has an opportunity to be among the best ever for Tufts.”
With some of the best athletes from a standout 2015 season returning in 2016, the team will look to expand on an amazing season and reach greater heights.