This Saturday, the men’s track and field team hosted the first annual Sunshine Classic at the Dussault Track, a relatively small event which served as the team’s final tune-up before this weekend’s heavily anticipated NESCAC Championships at Amherst. The six-team meet also featured cameo performances from notable Tufts alumni and athletes from the Greater Boston Track Club, who competed in certain events at the de facto alumni event, and despite the fairly relaxed nature of the meet, the host Jumbos unquestionably dominated the competition.
A small contingent of the team’s most elite runners also travelled to Princeton on Friday evening to compete in the Larry Ellis Invitational, giving them more experience against some of the strongest competition in the nation across all divisions.
In the weekend’s main event, the Sunshine Classic, Tufts came away with its fourth first-place finish of the year — and its third out of its four home meets — with a 315 point total score, which was more than double second-place Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s 152 points. University of Massachusetts Boston (68 points), Amherst (52), Massachusetts Maritime Academy (34) and Jumbo Alumni (27) rounded out the rest of the field.
The big performance of the day came from first-year Josh Etkind, who competed in the 110-meter hurdles and the triple jump. His 15.39 second time in the 110-meter hurdles final is Tufts’ best performance of the season to date. Junior Thomas Wang and first-year Henry Hintermeister finished second and third, respectively, in the event as well. Etkind was also part of a Jumbo sweep in the triple jump where his first place 13.91 meter performance was followed by Stefan Duvivier’s 13.30 meters and Linus Gordon’s 13.01 meters. Impressively, this was Etkind’s first time competing in the triple jump this season, but his first-place mark was good for 30th nationally.
“I’m proud … I think I did pretty well,” Etkind said. “I put up strong marks and it looks like I am in pretty good shape heading into [the NESCAC Championships] next Saturday.”
Senior Michael Paloian also had a big day for the Jumbos. The former football player delivered a personal best 49.15-meter hammer throw that was also a 2016 team-best performance.
“Personally, without regard for marks or distances, I think I threw pretty well just in terms of my technique,” Paloian said. “It’s always nice to get that personal record for the season, but that wasn’t my main goal.”
Other big performances came from seniors Bryson Hoover-Hankerson and Atticus Swett and sophomores Tom DePalma and Drew DiMaiti. Hoover-Hankerson won the 100-meter dash with a 11.12 time, and sophomore Peter Clark and first-year Thomas Miller were not far behind in second and third with times of 11.23 and 11.24, respectively. Tufts’ domination continued in the 800-meter event as DePalma posted a winning time of 1:55.19 with senior Alex Apostolides coming in third with a time of 1:55.19. DiMaiti and first-year Henry Hintermeister finished first and second in the 400-meter hurdles as Tufts continued the impressive streak.
Swett was also a big part of the Jumbo domination in the throws as he won the shot put and came in second in two more events. His 13.89 meter performance in the shot put was first out of 15. Swett was the runner-up in the discus throw and the javelin throw. In discus, he fell to Jason Beauregard of WPI and was bested by Aaron Weeks of WPI in the javelin.
Nearing the end of the day, the 4×100 relay team ran a 43.06-second race to win that event as well and give Tufts its eighth event win on the day. Hoover-Hankerson, Clark, Miller and first-year Anthony Kardonsky were part of the team that topped UMass Boston, Amherst and Mass. Maritime.
“It was raining for most of the meet, but the sun came out at the end it was a good way to finish off the meet and begin a tradition,” Kardonsky said.
Kardonsky also noted that even though it was cloudy and rainy for most of the day, which certainly affected the performances and marks, the sun did come out as the men’s long and triple jump events began.
“A lot of the guys were treating this meet as a miniature NESCACs and everyone was getting very competitive,” Paloian said. “It was a lot of just mental preparation and set the stage for NESCACs. I know a lot of people had to hit marks that were above their personal records to qualify. Thankfully, a lot of guys PR’d and qualified for NESCACs. We have four guys in hammer and shot [put] so we don’t have to wild card any throwers into any of those events, which is huge.”
Arguably the team’s top performers were not in action on Saturday, having competed Friday night on a much bigger stage. Three-time NCAA champion and All-American senior tri-captain Mitch Black led the Jumbo effort at Princeton, posting the top time in Div. III this season in his signature 800-meter event. His 1:48.60 time was also the ninth-fastest mark all-time in Div. III. Joining Black in the national top 15 ranks were junior Luke O’Connor, who ran the fourth-fastest time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and senior Veer Bhalla, whose 1:52.64 in the 800 was 15th in Div. III. The experienced duo of Black and Bhalla in particular, in addition to being the name of a sick rap group, seems poised to dominate the 800 meters at this weekends NESCACs once again.
Track and field athletes rarely concern themselves with the team’s overall finish at most meets, instead focusing more on the strength of and improvement in individual performances, but this weekend will mark one of those rare times when the overall team result and point tally is the only thing that matters. This Saturday, the Jumbos look to defend their status on top of the conference and win their fourth consecutive NESCAC title. Following some of the most successful indoor and outdoor seasons in program history, the team is both excited and ready for the chance to cement itself as one of the winningest programs in Tufts athletics history. Another NESCAC title would give men’s track and field six titles overall, tying them with men’s lacrosse for the second highest total across all Tufts sports behind softball.
Two of this week’s biggest performers are ready to repeat that success next weekend. Paloian, one of many seniors on the team, will be looking to continue his dominance from this past weekend into his final NESCAC performance.
“I feel good heading into NESCACs. The confidence is definitely there,” Paloian said. “I’m confident in myself and when the moment comes, when you’re in the circle, I know my teammates and I will be there performing and let it all hang loose,”
For the first-years, many of whom will be counted on to be key contributors this weekend, their first NESCAC championship represents a unique challenge and opportunity. Etkind, on of the team’s first-year phenoms and a reliable point contributor all season long, says he is confident in his ability to perform under the high pressure of NESCACs.
The whole season has been building to April 30 at Amherst, and the Jumbos are in a prime position to take the NESCAC crown once again.