The men’s cross country team entered the Connecticut College Invitational Sunday hot after finishing second at the James Earley Invitational last week. With senior captains Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor racing, the team looked to further its recent success heading into championship season.
The senior dynamic duo delivered for the Jumbos at the invitational as the team’s top two scorers. The Jumbos finished fourth out of 20 teams with a team score of 114. Connecticut College placed third with 105 points, No. 22 Middlebury scored an 84 for second and No. 14 Claremont Mudd Scripps won the tournament with a 79. Nichols led the field of 241 runners, finishing the 8-kilometer course in 24:11.1. O’Connor came in just behind him in second at 24:37.7.
Rounding out the Jumbos’ top five scorers were sophomores Dylan Jones in 26th place and Andrew Doherty Munro who finished 42nd, along with first-year David Ng’etich right behind in 43rd. Jones’ time of 25:41.2 and Ng’etich’s time of 26:06.3 were both personal records.
The scoring spots after Nichols and O’Connor have consistently been filled this season by underclassmen, a phenomenon noted by coach Joel Williams.
“Every time I think about how talented our youth is I get excited,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to watch them race and watch them develop, especially the sophomores. Every week someone else has stepped up. I think we’ve got a lot of good guys in that freshman and sophomore class.”
For the senior captains, a one-two finish was familiar territory. At the first race of the season on Sept. 17, Nichols and O’Connor placed first and second respectively at the Bates Invitational, where the Jumbos finished second overall. Nichols has been putting up record numbers for the Jumbos this season. His time of 23.58 at the 8-kilometer Paul Short Invitational was a program-best.
“Watching how well he ran this weekend, and how fast he ran, his ceiling is higher than anything I could have anticipated,” Williams said. “I really think he’s got a lot left in the tank and can surprise a lot of people at Nationals, knock on wood, if we get there.”
Before the Jumbos can focus on Nationals, they must travel to Colby for the NESCAC Championships on Oct. 29. Here they will take on some familiar rivals, its higher-ranked opponents No. 8 Amherst and No. 3 Williams.
“On an individual level, I’d say our biggest threats are Mohamed Hussein from Amherst and Peter Hale and Ben Decker from Williams,” Williams said.
Senior Hale and juniors Decker and Hussein accompany Nichols and O’Connor as the NESCAC’s top five runners. Determining which team is the league’s top, however, is much less cut and dry, due to the high level of talent all around.
“There [are] a lot of really strong teams in the conference,” Williams said. “When you look at the regional ranking, eight of the top 10 teams are from the NESCAC.”
According to Williams, the teams’ biggest test may be the new Colby course.
“We actually don’t know anything about the course,” he said.
Assistant coach Mike Schmidt added that the course remains a mystery for most teams participating in the race.
“Really nobody but the Colby coaches know what the course is like,” he said. “A lot of the other NESCAC coaches have asked for a video of the course and they have given nothing away, so it’s going to be a surprise.”
Williams and Schmidt said they are confident that Tufts’ recent success puts it in a good place for championship season. With success coming from various runners, they are excited for what the future holds.
“These past competitions have definitely set the tone and the expectation,” Williams said. “We have a lot to do in the next two weeks, but I think it gives the guys some confidence. We’ve had different guys running in our top seven, running really well at different times and hopefully that success as a team will carry out into NESCACs and everyone will run really well.”
And at the helm for Tufts next week will be none other than Nichols and O’Connor who look to win their first NESCAC title, the team’s first since 2012. According to Williams, a win on Oct. 29 would confirm for the rest of the world that they are a championship-caliber team.
“I think it would be a nice stamp on what our goals are and what our expectations for the program are. Everyone within the walls of Tufts knows and expects that we can challenge, we can contend for NESCAC titles and regional titles, and if we can do that this year, it would be our stamp declaring ‘we’re here,’” Williams said.