Nichols, O’Connor prepare for national championship following Tufts fifth-place finish

Sophomore Brian Reaney sprints to the finish line at the Connecticut College Cross Country Invitational at Harkness Memorial State Park on Saturday, Oct. 15. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

The Jumbos entered the New England Regional championships with the hopes of finishing off what has been a very successful season on a high note. They traveled to Westfield, Mass. on Saturday, where they raced earlier this season at the James Earley Invitational. Tufts finished fifth overall on the strength of first and third place finishes from senior co-captains Tim Nichols, who ran the course in 23:54.58, and Luke O’Connor, who ran it in 24:32.45. MIT tri-captain Matt Deyo finished second with a time of 24:28.38. MIT won the meet, beating out Williams in a tie-breaker.

For his efforts, Nichols received his third NESCAC Men’s Cross Country Performer of the Week honors this season. He also set a course record for the NCAA Regional championships, outrunning the 14-year-old record held by Trinity’s Ryan Bak (’02) of 24:21.0. Nichols also set the NCAA course record at Stanley Park, previously held by Mike Biwott (’15) from American International College, a Division II school.

A sophomore trio filled out Tufts’ top five, as Brain Reaney finished third for the Jumbos and 37th overall with a time of 25:32.98, and Christian Swenson (25:47.68) and Dylan Jones (26:00.14) were just behind. Reaney was two spots shy of receiving All-Region honors, but reveled in the experience and the support his team supplied nevertheless.

“Regionals is an exciting meet every year. A hundred of our cross [country] and track teammates are running half-naked around the course and screaming at us, and we get a chance to put all our training into one race. This year was especially intense because of how tight the team battle was between us, Middlebury, Colby and Amherst,” Reaney told the Daily in an email.

One of the biggest surprises of the season came on Sunday when the Jumbos found out that due to the NCAA’s new manner of allocating bids for the National Championship, their fifth place finish at Regionals was not enough for them to qualify for Nationals on Nov. 19. It is the first time since 2010 that Tufts will not be competing at the meet as a team. The only two runners competing at the Lake Breeze Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. are Nichols and O’Connor. The duo believes that they will be running for something bigger than themselves.

“Every time you step onto that line, you know that there’s a group of people that have been training hard and have been working their butts off to do as well as they can and just because things didn’t shake out the way we wanted doesn’t mean we’re not still a team and we’re not still representing Tufts University,” O’Connor said. “It’s the group that gets us through.”

This will be O’Connor’s and Nichols’ fourth time at Nationals. Last year, Nichols finished 19th, earning All-American honors, and O’Connor finished 74th overall in a field of 278 runners.

“It’s sort of like we’ve had three times to practice and this meet is the one that actually matters the most,” Nichols said. “I feel like I can manipulate the race a bit more. I have more control. Thinking back to my freshman year, I feel like I have more say in how the race will play out this year than in any other year that I ran.”

They feel their experience gives them a leg up in what will be the final cross country meet of their careers.

“I would say based on how we’ve been performing and how we’ve performed in years past, I think just having the experience of being there gives me confidence in knowing what I’ve done throughout the years has been what I need to do and I don’t need to change things up just because it’s a national meet,” O’Connor said.

Though they will be the only men running for Tufts on Nov. 19, they expressed that they could not be more proud of the rest of the runners and the strides the young team has made this season.

“One of the things I’ve found very surprising, which I feel like I’ve been talking about a lot, is that our team is very young,” O’Connor said. “What’s really surprising for me is the jumps people have made and how much ownership they take as a team, which is something I really enjoy.”

After the two captains graduate this spring, along with fellow seniors Chris Warren and Michael Caughron, the team will look to its young core of sophomores for leadership. Reaney in particular has been a frequent finisher in the Jumbos’ top-five this season, ranking in the team’s top-three four times this season.

“Next year, we’ll have a different team for sure without such a strong top two,” Reaney said. “I just hope I can stay healthy enough to keep training and putting down fast times. Without Tim and Luke, the weight is going to be more evenly distributed among the rest of us, and I think we’ll work more as a pack rather than relying on two strong runners. Especially with such a big junior class next year, we have a lot of bullets in our gun.”