With the season in full swing, the men’s cross country team entered the James Earley Invitational, an 8-kilometer hosted at Westfield State University, for its fourth meet of the year. After finishing 25th out of 38 teams at the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University the week before, the Jumbos were out for retribution and retribution was had.
Tufts finished second out of 41 teams, its best finish since its second-place finish on Sept. 17 at the Bates Invitational. The Jumbos scored 108 points, 40 points behind top-finisher Brandeis, which scored 68 points, and a comfortable 81 points ahead of third-place Norwich University.
Sophomores Brian Djerf and Brian Reaney led the scoring for Tufts. Djerf finished ninth in a field of 276 runners with a time of 25:56.14. This is Djerf’s best time of the season and the first time in his career finishing first for the Jumbos. It is his second time finishing in Tufts’ top five this season as he also scored at the Purple Valley Classic at Williams on Sept. 24. Reaney placed 16th overall at 26:03.53, his best time of the year as well. Rounding out Tufts’ top five were sophomore Rory Buckman, first-year David Ng’etich, and sophomore Tom Doyle. Gordon College’s Junior Damon Kilgore finished first at the invitational in 25:10.57.
The Jumbos were without their captains and first team All-NESCAC runners seniors Luke O’Connor and Tim Nichols, whom coach Williams chose to rest. Nichols received NESCAC Performer of the Week accolades for the second time this season last week. Watching the Jumbos dominate from the sidelines offered a unique perspective for the two captains.
“I think it was a really good weekend,” O’Connor said. “We had a lot [of] guys get after it hard and we had a lot of personal records, which was really exciting to see.”
With such strong performances from the team’s younger runners, the Jumbos have reason to believe that they will not only see success throughout the rest of the season, but also in years to come.
“I think [the team’s future] looks very good,” O’Connor said. “I think looking forward to the next couple of years we have a very strong pack of runners. Our third through 12th runners are pretty close together and it’s a pretty young group. If they continue to improve together, that’s how you get a strong team, just by having a tight pack.”
After a strong performance this weekend and with the return of the team’s top-runners, O’Connor and Nichols, the Jumbos are ready for the home stretch of the season. On Oct. 29, the team will travel to Colby College for the NESCAC Championships, where Tufts will look to dethrone Williams, the winner of the last three championships. Tufts has not won the NESCAC Championships since 2012.
This Saturday’s Conn. College Invitational should be a good measure of how prepared the Jumbos are for this challenge.
“We haven’t all raced together since the first meet,” O’Connor said. “Having everyone go out and compete this weekend will be a much better indicator going into NESCACs.”
O’Connor believes that this team bears a lot of resemblance to last year’s team, which finished third at NESCACs.
“This team is very similar to the group last year,” O’Connor said. “A lot of guys have had similar places although they’ve been training at a higher volume.”
The team expects their more intensive training regimen to pay dividends.
“We as a group have been doing more miles and the workouts have been longer,” O’Connor said. “We just need to trust in our training. Once the guys start doing that, they’ll reap the benefits and should do better than last year’s team.”
After the NESCAC Championships, they will compete in the NCAA Regional Championship on Nov. 12, which will be on the same Westfield State course as the James Earley Invitational.
“It’s a really nice course,” O’Connor said. “It’s softer, which allows for a lot of really fast times which is exciting, but it also has variety. It’s a fun course to run on because of all the scenery changes as well.”
Based on the James Earley Invitational, the Jumbos are in good shape for NCAA Regionals. In the meantime, the team gears up for the meet at Conn. College on Saturday.