The Jumbos journeyed to Stanley Park in Westfield, Mass. on Saturday for the Div. III NCAA Cross Country Regional Championship, a six-kilometer race against teams in the New England area. Tufts, ranked No. 6 nationally, finished in third place out of 59 total schools, closely behind winner No. 2 MIT, and second place No. 5 Williams. Though Tufts did not earn an automatic bid to nationals — to qualify they would have had to finish in the top two teams — the team received an at-large bid as a result of its performance throughout the season.
The Jumbos had the fastest runner at the race, as junior Brittany Bowman placed first in a field of over 400 of New England’s best runners. A Tufts runner has not taken first place at the NCAA regional cross country championship since Nancy Benson did so in 1987.
Bowman placed first at the race out of over 400 runners with a race time of 21:14.29. Bowman improved by almost an entire minute on her finish last year at the NCAA regionals in Waterfield, Conn., where she finished with a time of 22:11.0 and in 25th place. MIT first-year Megan McCandless placed second with a time of 21:16.40, just over two seconds behind Bowman.
“Our team got out really well, we were all in the Top 25-30 from the get go, and Brittany [Bowman] has made the mistake in the past of going too early or being impatient, but she sat back,” Coach Kristen Morwick said. “When it came time, she actually let the MIT freshman [McCandless] get ahead of her a little with 800 [meters] to go. Then at the final turn, with 60, 70 meters to go, [Bowman] put the gas on and went right by her, and the girl wasn’t even expecting it.”
According to Morwick, this year marked the first ever that Tufts runners were the top men’s and women’s runners in their respective NCAA regional races.
The race was extremely close. There were only nine points separating the top team from the third team, as MIT finished with 68 total points, Williams with 71 and Tufts with 77.
Highlighting the strength of those three programs in particular, there was a larger drop in point totals and average race times after the top three. In fourth place, Middlebury finished with 149 points, and its average race time per runner was 40 seconds more than that of the Tufts team.
Morwick said that that the team’s adherence to its strategy of pack-running played a large part in its success.
“We’ve gotten caught up in the past in letting the race or the competition dictate, and we were more reactionary,” Morwick said. “This time we went in and everyone had their plan. Our motto was run your own race.”
She explained that the coaching staff worked hard to adequately prepare the team for the race.
“We had done things in practice to let them know that they were going to be really good on a flat, fast course,” she said. “I went out with a measuring wheel and wheeled the whole course the night before we were there. We had our markers on the course and took the race in chunks, and they really executed it well.”
All five of Tufts’ scorers received All-Region honors for placing in the Top 35 at the meet. Senior tri-captain Alice Wasserman and senior Lindsay Atkeson finished 35th and 39th overall as Tufts’ sixth and seventh runners.
Sophomore Natalie Bettez also placed in the top ten of the race. She secured sixth place, crossing at 21:32.86. Senior Kelly Fahey finished in 21:42.89 for 14th overall, sophomore Kelsey Tierney netted 26th place with a time of 22:05.76 and senior tri-captain Sam Cox rounded out Tufts’ scoring five, as she came in 30th place with a time of 22:09.65.
Morwick is hopeful that the team will continue to improve and put together a strong effort at the NCAA championship this weekend in Louisville, Ky.