Senior quad-captains Marilyn Allen, Sydney Smith and Alexis Harrison of the women’s track and field team went out with a bang in its final indoor competitions of its careers this past weekend at the NCAA Div. III Indoor Track Championships in Grinnell, Iowa. As Harrison grabbed second place in the 60-meter dash, Smith took eighth in the one-mile run and Allen placed 12th in the 60-meter hurdles, this was the most impressive performance for the Jumbos at the indoor championships in the last few years. Harrison’s performance garnered eight team points for Tufts while Smith’s earned one, and the nine team points got the team the 24th place overall in the nation.
Harrison’s journey to be the second fastest Div. III sprinter in the nation only started to become clear a few weeks ago at the Div. III New England Championships, where she ran a then-school record 7.63 seconds in the dash, launching herself into the top-three times nationally. But she kicked it up another notch over the weekend.
In the preliminaries on Friday, she ran the fastest time by anyone on the day, blazing to a new personal best and school record of 7.55 seconds. Harrison knew she had something special cooking which was made apparent during the finals on Saturday. In that race, she ran the second fastest race of her life in 7.57 seconds to take second overall, just behind the top sprinter in the nation this year — Illinois Wesleyan senior Nia Joiner, who ran 7.49 seconds to take the national title. This was Harrison’s first All-American honor and may not be her last with the outdoor track season still to come.
“After I ran a 7.55 in the prelims, I was just really excited and happy. I couldn’t stop smiling for a while after that,” Harrison said. “It’s a great feeling to achieve a PR at nationals. I was very nervous before the prelims. I took some deep breaths as well as told myself to trust my training and have confidence in my abilities. Once the race started, the nerves were gone, and I focused on my technique.”
Harrison has improved by leaps and bounds this season. Last year, she didn’t even qualify for the national championships. This year, she is second in the nation and was the team’s biggest point contributor by far.
“This season I was able to find this next gear and mentally push myself farther than I have in the past,” she said. “During races, I would tell myself to drive harder, and my training allowed my body to respond. I felt in control. I relaxed my body and really went for it whenever I competed. I wanted to win every race, and in order to do that I had to keep getting faster.”
Smith, on the other hand, had a much more unpredictable path toward her All-American honor. Going into the meet, she was ranked nationally in the top 25 in the mile and made it through the bubble into the championships. In her preliminary heat on Friday, she was able to manage a 5:00.67 time, which, under normal circumstances, would have qualified her into the final with the final time spot. In an interesting turn of events, Susquehanna senior Ashley West also ran 5:00.67, putting the two in a virtual tie for the 10th and final qualifying spot into the final. The officials examined the times closer, finding that Smith ran 0.002 seconds faster than West and awarded her the final spot in the final.
“I was incredibly frustrated and disappointed with how the prelims race went, and I honestly thought I had missed the finals,” Smith said. “I didn’t hear the news that I had made it until about 15 minutes later when I was back in the warm up gym. I don’t think I’ll ever forget getting the text from our assistant coach Heidi [Caldwell] with a picture of the official prelims results. The sense of relief I had at that moment is really hard to put into words. I can safely say I have a new appreciation for the importance of running all the way through the line and a new appreciation for the number 0.002.”
Despite the drama, Smith got the job done in the final, running a new personal best of 4:56.59 to grab the eighth place and her first All-American distinction along with one team point.
“The finals was definitely the best race I’ve had all season,” Smith said. “It was the first race where I finally put together a good last lap and found the extra gear down the final homestretch that’s been missing for most of the season. The coaches and I had talked about putting myself in the front half of the pack to put myself in the race. From there, I just focused on covering early moves and not getting boxed in. I knew that the last lap would come down to a kick, so I just had to keep myself in a position to have space to pass people.”
Back in the sprint events, Allen performed extremely well in the deepest 60-meter hurdle field in recent years. Last year, she narrowly missed an All-American title, placing ninth in the preliminaries with an 8.92 second time. Although she placed 12th overall this year, her time was much faster as she blitzed to an 8.86 second time in the prelim. To put things into perspective, such a time at last year’s national championships would have given her the seventh place. Allen will remain hungry and will be looking for that All-American honor this outdoor season.
With the indoor season officially over, the Jumbos have a brief three-week break before the outdoor season begins. The full squad will be back in force at Tufts’ own annual Snowflake Classic, held at the Ellis Oval on April 2, where the team will look to start its quest to battle its way to the top spots in the NESCAC Championships.
Although the team’s overall goal is a strong placing at NESCACs, Harrison and Smith will also be eyeing some individual achievement.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to have been second in the nation let alone an All-American after dreaming about it for four years. It just proved to me that you can achieve your goals with hard work, and you can overcome setbacks with determination,” Harrison said. “I hope to keep the momentum going for the outdoor season, and I have my sights set on the 100 [meter] national title.”
“I’m looking to move up the Tufts all-time list and maybe even look towards the school record in the 1,500-meter,” Smith said. “Tufts has had a long string of incredible mid-distance runners, so being able to compete for a top spot in the Tufts record books I think will really help push me to a new level in outdoor.”