The Tufts women’s cross country team enters every season with high expectations. It aims to not only race against the best competition in the country, but to win out against those opponents. These are consistent, yearly goals, but after last year’s second-place NESCAC finish and seventh-place run at Nationals, the team is poised for a record-breaking season.
The team knows that to achieve a season with the same results as 2015, it must consistently run its best at every meet.
“We graduated a few key runners from last year but so far it is looking like everyone really trained well over the summer [and] are ready to fill those gaps,” senior captain Sarah Corning said.
Those graduated runners led the team to a second-place finish in the NESCAC championships and ultimately a seventh-place finish at Nationals in Wisconsin last November. This was Tufts’ best national finish in the past nine years.
Even though last year was so successful, the team is not satisfied because it feels that it can still finish stronger.
“We know if we all come prepared every day, follow the right training plan, recover right and race smart, we can have an even better year than last season,” sophomore Kelsey Tierney said. “We’re coming in with the expectation to improve on our performances, especially in the big meets.”
Last season is proof that this team is a national contender, but the road to Nationals is never easy in the Northeast region, especially the NESCAC. The Northeast is one of the most competitive areas in the country, which is a blessing and a curse. All races are against top competition, which helps to prepare the Jumbos for big meets, but the competitiveness in the region can make favorable results rare.
The team emphasizes the necessity of building healthy habits as a key to its success. The high standards that the captains set reflect how seriously the Jumbos take surpassing the achievements of last season.
“In a more physical sense, we practice really hard every week and we just need to stay focused every day to achieve the results we want at the end of the season.” Corning said. “That means doing the little things like stretching, icing, sleeping and eating well.”
Physically, the preseason has the Jumbos feeling confident entering their first meets. With every season comes a crop of first-year runners and the team boasts 11 first-years this season. Including three other new members, 14 of the team’s 37 runners are new. Despite the loss of many important seniors, these new runners are key in replacing the middle distance gaps that create a balanced team.
Not only do the first-years bring new sets of legs, but they also bring a whole new dynamic to a very tightly-knit team. Strong team chemistry is key, especially with many new faces, but the returning members of the team have been impressed with the way the first-years integrated themselves.
“Because cross country is such a mental sport, it is really important for the team to be supportive of each other,” Corning said. “We have tried to drive it home early in the year that everyone should feel comforted and supported by their teammates.”
“They already seem to love our corner in Dewick,” Tierney added.
With preseason workouts behind them and team chemistry high, the Jumbos are looking forward to the season as a whole, and hope to exceed the successes of last season.
Tufts starts its season on Sept. 17 at the Bates Invitational. Tufts was able to take home first place in the meet last year, handily beating the competition in what serves as more of a tune-up for Tufts. Last year, the Jumbos finished first or second in six of their next seven meets leading up to Nationals. They went on to finish second in the NESCAC behind the Williams Ephs, who ultimately won Nationals.
Audrey Gould (LA ’16) was the team’s top runner last season, but she was supported by five returning runners in the next six slots. One of these runners is senior Alice Wasserman, a captain for the second straight season, who shares the captain duties this season with her classmates Corning and Samantha Cox.
Playoff meets start for the Jumbos in the last weekend of October, when they hope to qualify for the regional championships and then Nationals, which will take place in Louisville, KY this year.