The indoor season has come to a close for Tufts men’s track and field team, but not before the Jumbos made their presence known. For the third time in his decorated track and field career, senior tri-captain Mitchell Black took home the crown in the 800-meter.
Tufts’ last meet of the year was the NCAA championships at Grinnell College in Iowa, the culmination of a season’s hard work for the team. All of the athletes that participated in this meet produced top times in other meets to get there. They had to train to keep their form, perform under pressure and finish with one of the best times in all of Div. III to get in on the action at the national championships.
Seven Jumbos flew out to Grinnell to participate in the nationals. The team scored 11 points as a whole, obtaining the 21st place in the meet out of more than 100 participating schools.
Both Black and senior Veer Bhalla participated in the 800-meter race and were the only two Jumbos to score on the day.
The seniors have served as leading scorers for the Jumbos throughout most of the indoor season. Bhalla went into the race as the New England Div. III Indoor 600-meter champion and Black as the New England 800-meter champion. Black entered the national championships with the country’s top seed and a 1:50.89 qualifying time while his teammate Bhalla came in as the sixth seed with a 1:52.32 time.
Both runners advanced to the final heat of eight runners on Saturday after their strong performances in the preliminaries on Friday.
“I knew if I ran a smart prelim that I could get to the final without having to run a blistering race, so the coaches talked a lot about positioning going into the race,” Black told gotuftsjumbos.com. “I just wanted to stay out of trouble and move up with a lap to go to put myself in position to go through to the final. It was a bit more physical than we anticipated, but I was able to clear the scrum and grab the second auto-spot.”
In a cruel twist, Bhalla suffered some hard luck in the finals, as he was tripped up in the tight field by another runner and fell 150 meters away from the finish. Despite finishing last in the final heat as a result, he ended up scoring for the Jumbos, as he finished eighth in that race with a time of 2:04.10. This top 10 finish also earned him an All-American accolade.
Black was more fortunate than his teammate. He was already a champion of the 800, winning the race at the indoor and outdoor championships last year. This year, the experienced middle-distance runner was back in form and repeated the feat. The senior finished the last race of his indoor career at the head of the pack, taking the national title in the 800 for the third time in a time of 1:52.48.
“I approached it just as I have with Nationals races in the past,” Black told GoTuftsJumbos.com. “Time doesn’t matter. It’s all about where you are in the race in the last 300-[meter]. I was confident in my ability to kick, so I hung back until about 250-[meter] to go, at which point I made a hard move to the front and pushed with everything I had. None of the front runners were able to cover the move, which was the hope going in to the race. It played out similarly to last year’s Indoor final.”
Earlier in the week before the nationals, Black was named the New England Track Athlete of the Year for the second indoor season in a row by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Juniors Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor also raced for the Jumbos in the 5000-meter. Neither scored in that contest, as Nichols placed the 11th and O’Connor placed the 14th, though the performances put the juniors in strong position to improve on the national stage in the outdoor season and next year. In another unfortunate turn of events, Nichols reportedly lost one of his shoes on the second lap of the 25-lap race, which likely caused him to place lower than expected.
The remaining Jumbos took part in the distance medley relay. The team included senior tri-captain Alex Kasemir, first-year Colin Raposo, senior Alex Apostolides and Black, as they achieved their qualifying time a week before the race in the Tufts Final Qualifying Meet in Gantcher Center. The team of four finished 12th out of 12 competing teams in the Distance Medley Relay with a time of 10:28.58.
“The DMR definitely wasn’t a disaster,” senior tri-captain Alex Apostolides, who ran the 800-meter leg of the race for the Jumbos, said. “It just didn’t work out the way we expected it to, and that’s just a part of sports.”
Apostolides also acknowledged the bad luck that befell the Jumbos at the meet, including Bhalla’s tripping in the 800 and Nichols’ losing his shoes in the 5,000, more unfortunate yet inherent aspects of track and field competitions.
“The team is definitely happy as a whole; there were just some unexpected occurrences that didn’t let us fulfill the potential that we all had in mind going into this meet,” Apostolides said.
During the indoor season, the Jumbos finished first in two home meets and third in a meet on the road. Aside from that, they had plenty of success with individual times. The team sent a relatively large seven-runner contingent to nationals and enjoyed a slew of personal records and school records.
Now that the indoor season has come and gone, the focus shifts to outdoor for coach Joel Williams and the Jumbos. Before the season starts, the team will be traveling to San Diego over spring break to train and get focused for the outdoor season.
“The trip will really set the backdrop for the new season,” Apostolides said. “The goal for this season is to win a fourth NESCAC Championship. It would be the fourth for me, as this is my fourth year on the team. That takes place at Amherst in late April, so the team’s focus, Joel’s focus [and] my focus is to be ready to compete then and get ahead of Williams, who did a lot better than us at the indoor championships.”
The Jumbos have their work cut out for them in their quest to claim this year’s NESCAC title. At the indoor nationals last weekend, frequent NESCAC rival Williams earned 20 points to tie for the seventh, fourteen spots ahead of Tufts.
The first outdoor meet for the Jumbos will take place on April 1, when they will travel to Gainesville for the University of Florida’s Pepsi Florida Relays. The team will look to carry their indoor success to the outdoor season while compete against some tough Div. I talent.