Men’s Cross Country poised to build on 15th place NCAA finish

Members of the Men's Cross Country team start their run at the Bates College Invitational on Sept. 19, 2015. (Courtesy Ty Enos)

The Tufts men’s cross country team enjoyed resounding success last season, earning its highest-ever placement at the NCAA Outdoor Meet — a 15th place finish — with several runners also taking home All-American Honors. The program lost one of its most decorated runners in history, Mitchell Black (LA ’16), who was a four-time national 800m champion and ten-time All-American. Black was awarded the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association New England Track Athlete of the Year for both the indoor and outdoor seasons of his final year at Tufts. His absence leaves big shoes to fill, but with a new coach and some senior talent, the team is hoping to achieve a similar level of success this year. 

Coach Joel Williams joined Tufts in November 2015 and this is his first season with the men’s cross country team. His previous coaching experience includes a one-year stint as coach of men’s and women’s track and field at Illinois Tech, another Div. III program. Williams also served as an assistant coach at Williams College for four years. He was named both Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year by the Association of Division III Independents in his lone season with Illinois Tech. While studying at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., Williams was a four time All-American and a 12-time NCAA qualifier out of 12 possible times. He helped lead North Central College to a championship in 1998 as a member of their national champion 4×100-meter relay team.

Senior co-captains Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor lead the Jumbos on the trail. Last year, Nichols added to his already impressive college career when he ran a career best 24:46.2 8,000-meter race in the NCAA Div III Cross Country Championships. O’Connor’s junior year was also notable, as he ran a 24:43.7 in the 8,000-meter race at last year’s NCAA Div III New England Region Cross Country Championships, setting a new personal record.

“Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor as our senior captains are poised for their best seasons yet,” sophomore Christian Swenson said. “Both are coming off their All-American finishes in track and Tim is coming off an impressive [15th] place finish at nationals. Both of them are ready to compete with everyone the division has to offer.”

Assistant coach Michael Schmidt also expressed confidence in the team’s leadership for the coming season. “Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor should be at the front of any race they run and are joined by seniors Michael Caughron and Chris Warren to form a strong quartet to lead the team this year,” Schmidt said. “Juniors Sam Little and John Greenberg have put in impressive summers as well.”

Schmidt served as the interim coach last season before coach Williams was hired. During that period, he was able to gain valuable experience as a head coach. At Middlebury College, Schmidt was a six-time All-American, and in 2012, he achieved the nation’s fastest time in the 10,000 with 29:23.

Sophomore Dylan Jones believes that the other runners will pitch in to lead the team to success this season. Jones singled out sophomores James Gregoire and Andrew Doherty Munro as runners who could have big seasons.

“James Gregoire and Andrew Doherty are both healthy this season and trained really hard,” Jones said. “Both put in the necessary mileage over the summer and are ready to prove that they have what it takes.”

The Jumbos finished fifth out of 40 teams at the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships, 17th out of 32 teams at the NCAA Championship, 3rd out of 55 teams at the NCAA Regional Championships and 3rd out of 11 teams in the NESCAC Championship.

The runners have even higher hopes for this year, as they believe they can improve upon those finishes.

“Our goals as a team include first and foremost winning NESCACs,” Swenson said. “We would also like to return to nationals and have a high placing there.”

Jones expressed similar sentiments.

“We really want to have a strong showing at nationals to make up for last year, and as a team we need to work on developing underclassmen more,” Jones said. “This year we really need to focus on developing our younger talent, the [first-years] and the sophomores”

The team trained intensely over the summer, despite the fact that the team members were not able to train together for the most part.

“We have gone through summer training on our own,” Swenson said. “We as a team have all run many miles in preparation.”

Despite all the talent on the current roster, there was a lot of turnover on this year’s squad. Six seniors graduated from the team, leaving a few open slots on varsity.

“Our two front-runners should provide a cushion for us, much like they did last year.” Swenson said. “To achieve a higher level of success than we did last year, the next guys have got to try and close that gap between Tim [Nichols] and Luke [O’Connor] and the next guy.”

“The talent is there, we just need to really work hard as a team to achieve the same success we did last year or hopefully even surpass it,” Jones added.

The team’s first race is Sept. 17 at the Bates Invitational.