Another week, another slew of some of the top marks in the nation for the men’s track and field team. Each weekend this month has just been a tune-up for the Jumbos as they gear up for the NESCAC Championships at Amherst on April 30, where they are the favorites to win the conference title for the fourth year in a row. In their latest practice for NESCACs, the squad was in form this weekend at both the Sam Howell Invitational at Princeton on Friday night and at a quad-meet at MIT on Saturday.
While the majority of the team stayed in the area for the MIT meet, six of the team’s top runners shined at Princeton in one of the spring season’s biggest and most competitive opportunities to post fast times. By far the best performance from either meet came on Friday night when junior Tim Nichols ran the 10,000-meter in 30:12.19 minutes — the second fastest time in Div. III in the nation so far this season — with senior teammate Michael Curley finishing not far behind in 30:48.11 minutes for the nation’s fourth-fastest time.
For his efforts, Nichols was honored with the NESCAC Men’s Track Performer of the Week, which surprisingly, given the team’s results, is the first time in two years a Tufts athlete has received the award.
“Curley and Nichols really went after it on the 10K as they led the group and put the team on a good pace,” junior Luke O’Connor said.
O’Connor also impressed at Princeton as his 14:37.19 time in the 5,000-meter was the fastest of any Div. III runner in the race and the fourth best in the nation in Div. III.
“[This was the] best I have done outdoors, and it was close to my PR,” O’Connor said. “It was great to see how things translated from indoor to outdoors.”
Senior tri-captain Mitchell Black, always one of the team’s biggest contributors, joined the list of Jumbos at Princeton putting up top-five times nationally as he ran the 1,500-meter in 3:50.90, second in Div. III, just 0.02 seconds behind Ramapo’s Jeremy Hernandez, who ran Div. III’s fastest time on Friday.
Back in the Boston area, the rest of the team got an early look against NESCAC foe Bates at the MIT quad-meet, which also included the hosts and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute *(RPI). Tufts finished fourth out of the four teams with 111 points, behind MIT’s 218, RPI’s 146 and Bates’ 132. Of course, the Jumbos were without a lot of their top performers who were in action on Friday at Princeton, and many team’s members were competing outside of their normal events.
“We weren’t really going for the win in the meet. We were going for everyone having a chance to perform well,” senior HeeJae An said.
An leaped out to 42 ft. 1.25 in. in the triple jump, the best Tufts mark this season and a lifetime personal best.
“It is always great to see upperclassmen PRing,” O’Connor said of An’s performance.
“A lot of [Jumbos] weren’t racing so it was a little bit disappointing seeing MIT beat us by so much, but a lot of people did run very well, and it went well overall,” junior Nick Usoff, who finished third in the 400-meter hurdles, said.
“I was looking for a little bit of a faster time, but the conditions were pretty unideal as there was a lot of wind,” Usoff said.
Usoff also noted that there several impressive performances by first-years, with the rookies showing up in a major way. First-year Christian Swenson finished with a 3:57.13 time in the 1,500-meter — which was good for third and nearly nabbed the first-year record — while fellow first-years Thomas Miller and Colin Raposo also each earned third-place in the 100 and 800-meter, respectively.
Senior Bryson Hoover-Hankerson also turned in a good day, as his 21 ft., 9.5 in.-performance in the long jump was a national top 50 mark. He also placed second in the 100-meter.
“I have some things I can adjust and work on so that I can help my team during NESCACs, but I am not disappointed with my start, seeing as it was my first meet of the season,” Hoover-Hankerson told the Daily in an email. “Mainly I came away from the meet knowing I still have a lot of work to do. I think the meet served its purpose, which was to allow us to continue to improve week to week and to work on different aspects of our respective events so that when the NESCAC Championship rolls around, we will be firing on all cylinders.”
The buildup to the NESCAC Championships continues this Friday and Saturday with the Silfren Invitational at Conn. College, followed by the Holy Cross Multi-Event on April 20 — 21, the Larry Ellis Invitational at Princeton on April 22 and then the Tufts Sunshine Classic on April 23.
“This weekend bodes well. [It] showed us what we are doing and what we can’t do. Hopefully we can win our fourth title in a row,” Curley said.
“While the wind really impacted our sprints and they didn’t have the day they were looking for… we added a lot of depth for events that are not necessarily strong before NESCACs,” O’Connor aded.
This weekend sets the team up to do well in the postseason as various athletes turned in solid qualifying marks and got practice across a range of different events. The weekend also allowed a lot of people who were injured or hurting or who haven’t competed much recently to get back into the swing of competition again.
“I don’t think this meet holds any weight as far as the rest of the season is concerned. In our sport you have to show up every Friday or Saturday and prove what your capable of again so the next meet at Conn College is another opportunity to improve,” Hoover-Hankerson noted.