Nichols and O’Connor place first, second in NESCAC Championship

The two fastest male runners of the day, senior Tim Nichols (bib 221) and senior Luke O'Connor (bib 222) run together at the Connecticut College Cross Country Invitational at Harkness Memorial State Park on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

With the postseason in full swing, men’s cross country ventured out to Waterville, Maine to compete in the NESCAC championships at Colby College. Without any prior experience on Colby’s new course, the Jumbos were in for a challenge.

Tufts tied with Middlebury for third, with each team scoring 126 points total. Amherst finished second with 100 points and Williams won the NESCAC Championship for the fourth straight year with a score of 83. The Jumbos also placed third last year.

The big story for the Jumbos was the performance of its leaders, senior co-captains Tim Nichols and Luke O’Connor. The duo finished in first and second, respectively, out of a field of 123 runners. Nichols finished in 24:58.79, while O’Conner ran the 8-kilometer race in 25:29.80. This is Nichols’ third time finishing in the top five at NESCACs and O’Connor’s second — he placed sixth last season. Nichols is the first Tufts runner to win the individual NESCAC championship since Mark Hardie in 1981. Assistant coach Michael Schmidt believes the captains’ performances only further cement their decorated legacies.

“[Nichols] and [O’Connor] have firmly solidified themselves as the top two cross-country runners in Tufts history. This past weekend earned them a spot in the upper echelon of NESCAC runners,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully they can build even more into the final three weeks and cap off their collegiate careers with success.”

The Jumbos’ dominance in what is the second-strongest men’s cross country conference in Div. III — second only to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — has not gone unnoticed, and as they head into the NCAA Regional and National championships this November, coaches from across the league are anticipating strong performances.

“[Nichols] and [O’Connor] have been two of the top the past couple years, great competitors and champions,” Williams coach Peter Farwell told the Daily in an email. “They have obviously gotten even better for … their senior years, and both looked phenomenal in this race. It is a great accomplishment for them to go one-two. We saw [Nichols] race at [the] Paul Short [Invitational] four weeks ago and knew then that he is ‘the real deal’ this year and should be a top individual contender at Nationals.”

This year marked Farwell’s 16th NESCAC championship with Williams, as the perennial powerhouse has won nine of the last 11. The Colby course’s difficulty and the poor weather conditions made this win stand out.

“The Colby course is true cross country, a long tough hill, lots of other ups and downs, many curves, and with the previous rain the course was a true challenge, which we at Williams love,” Farwell said. “We do lots of trail and hill running and feel that is a requisite part of [cross-country] racing. This race was memorable for the ‘up for grabs’ title with so many teams vying for it, and in contention up into the final mile, and straightaway finish.”

Schmidt was also impressed with the rest of the team’s performance, and he looks forward to big things to come from the team’s young core. In addition to the one-two finish from Nichols and O’Connor, sophomores Brian Reaney and Christian Swenson finished 28th at 26:52.02 and 41st at 27:07.39, respectively. Rounding out the Jumbos’ top five was first-year David Ng’etich, who finished at 27:21.54 for 55th place.

“Our young guys are taking transformative steps forward this season. We will miss the rock-steady leadership that the seniors have provided but many of the returners should be hungry to fill those roles,” Schmidt said. “They will need to find themselves more towards the fronts of races in [O’Connor’s] and [Nichols’] absence. Across the board, they have the talent and ethic to put in the work to do so.”

The team looks ahead to Nov. 12, when it will compete against some of New England’s fastest teams at the NCAA Regional Championship at Westfield State University. The team has already competed on this course at the James Earley Invitation on Oct. 8, when they finished second in a field of 41. Schmidt believes the past result is a good omen for what is to come for his squad.

“Everyone has seen the course at Westfield, competing there earlier in the year. It’s a flat course we know well, know where to be aggressive and how to effectively work together over the 8K. It’s a course we have run well at many times,” Schmidt said.