Nichols wins NCAA Championship for the 5,000-meter

Senior Michael Caughron, junior John Greenberg and sophomore Kyle Anderson compete in the 5,000-meter race at the Tufts Sunshine Classic at the Dussault Outdoor Track on April 23, 2016. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Last weekend, men’s track and field competed in the NCAA Div. III Championships in Naperville, Ill. Senior tri-captain distance runner Tim Nichols, junior jumper Stefan Duvivier, sophomore mid-distance runner Hiroto Watanabe and sophomore mid-distance runner Josh Etkind all qualified to represent the Jumbos in the championships. Tufts garnered a lot of success at the event, with runners earning multiple All-American honors.

On Friday, Nichols competed in the 5,000-meter event. He was seeded first and lived up to his ranking, running a 14:25.08, winning the race and claiming the NCAA 5,000-meter championship for Tufts. Nichols mounted an incredible 150 meter sprint in the final lap of the race to pull away from third place and the rest of the pack of runners, beating second-place sophomore Dhruvil Patel of North Central College by a whole 3.07 seconds. His time earned 10 points for the Jumbos.

“My strategy going into the race was really different from how the race actually played out,” Nichols said. “It was originally supposed to be a set of pretty consistent, fast splits but it played out pretty slowly until the second third of the race, where it got really fast.”

This is Nichols’ first national championship victory and the fourth All-American honor of his career. His previous All-American performances have been in cross country.

The championship victory was a fitting end to Nichols’ stellar indoor track season, during which he broke the Tufts school record for both the 3,000-meter and the 5,000-meter events. Over the course of his senior year, Nichols has taken third at the NCAA cross country championships, won the New England Small College cross country race and won the NCAA New England Region cross country championships.

Nichols said he was not expecting to be named national champion in the 5,000-meter event.

“It’s pretty cool [to be a national champion],” Nichols said. “It all came together very nicely and I’m definitely pretty surprised … It really wasn’t a goal until a week before [the championships] because the national leader, who had been pretty dominant, wasn’t able to run at nationals and I was the number one seed. So I just went for it.”

Also on Friday, Watanabe qualified for the 800-meter finals with a time of 1:53.70, finishing seventh out of eight possible qualifying positions. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, Etkind did not earn a qualifying position in the preliminaries, as he ran a 8.42 in the 60-meter hurdles. He missed out on a qualifying position by just 0.2 seconds, finishing behind Cortland sophomore Storm Malone who ran a 8.22. 

On Saturday, Watanabe earned All-American honors as well, the first of his career. He ran a 1:56.93 in the 800-meter to take eighth place in the event. Wantanabe’s eighth-place finish earned a point for Tufts, bringing the team total to 11.

Duvivier finished the high jump tied for 10th with a best jump of 1.97, but his mark was not high enough to earn the Jumbos any points toward their overall score.

In addition to his success in the 5,000-meter, Nichols competed in the 3,000-meter event, almost claiming another All-American finish. He came in ninth with a time of 8:24.47, just 0.51 seconds off of Muhlenberg College senior Jaryd Flank, who finished with a time of 8:23.96.

By the end of Saturday, the Jumbos ranked fourth at the meet due to Nichols’ championship-winning time. The team also finished the day having accumulated 11 total points, which was enough to tie for 18th place.

Coach Joel Williams noted that this was an improvement over last year’s 21st-place finish at the championships, which had been the team’s goal.

After a successful indoor track season, the Jumbos will now start preparing for the outdoor track season. Their first meet will be the PLNU Invitational at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif. on March 5.

Nichols said that the team is looking forward to more success in the outdoor season.

“I think the team is looking pretty great,” he said. We’re going to try and get a lot of people to the outdoor nationals and I think we can have a lot of success there as a team. For me, I want to be focusing on the 10k, try and qualify for nationals in the 5k and 10k and see what I can do there.”