O’Connor puts up top time in 3,000-meter steeple as Jumbos look to NESCACs

Junior Andrew DiMaiti sprints with the baton in a relay during the meet on April 15. Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily

Adding to what has already been an illustrious career at Tufts, senior tri-captain Luke O’Connor notched one of the best times in the nation in the 3,000 steeplechase at the first of two meets over the weekend.

O’Connor put up the result on Friday in Princeton’s Larry Ellis Invitational. He competed against a diverse field, including professionals and athletes from several divisions. O’Connor’s 9:03.24 time placed him fifth in the race and second among collegiate athletes, behind only Div. I Central Conn. junior Austin Trainor.

“I had a pretty loose strategy going into my steeple on Friday,” O’Connor said. “I knew that I would be racing with a really good crew, so I wanted to be toward the front of the middle of the pack. From there I tried to find guys who were going about my pace and work as a pack.”

O’Connor’s strategy of pack running paid off, but he explained that it was not without risk.

“I forgot that a pack may make running a lot easier, but hurdling in a pack could be pretty hard,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s time remains first in Div. III, nearly three seconds ahead of the second place finisher, junior Brett Harms from University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.

While O’Connor traveled solo to Princeton to participate in the Invitational, the rest of the team competed in the Trinity College Invitational on Saturday.

In the same event his captain had dominated the day before, sophomore James Gregoire also claimed a win for the Jumbos, albeit only over four competitors, three of whom were fellow Jumbos. Tufts took first, second and third in the race.

Senior Tim Nichols put up another strong performance in the 5,000-meter, finishing with a 14:28.96, nearly a full minute faster than the second-place finisher. His time ranks him in the top-20 nationally in the 5,000-meter, one of two events in which he holds a nationally ranked time this spring.

“The team performed pretty well given the conditions,” Nichols said. “On the distance side, we saw a lot of [personal records] in the 3k steeplechase and the 5k … People are definitely starting to gear up for NESCACs this coming weekend.”

The Jumbos dominated the 800-meter run, claiming four of the top five spots in the event. First-year Matt D’Anieri ran a 1:56.80 to claim the title, closely followed by fellow first-year Roman Lovell (1:58.46), and sophomore Hiroto Watanabe (1:58.76) to round out the top three.

Veterans showed their experience for the Jumbos in the hurdles, as sophomore Josh Etkind took first in the 110-meter hurdles with a 15.26 and senior tri-captain Nick Usoff took the 400-meter crown with a 54.88-second showing.

The Jumbos also added second-place showings in the javelin throw and the long jump, from sophomore Henry Hintermeister, who claimed second place by two centimeters, and junior Linus Gordon, respectively.

While the Jumbos took advantage of some opportunities this weekend ahead of their first postseason meets of the spring, O’Connor explained that such showings have not allowed the Jumbos to become complacent going into NESCACs.

“While I know we can still compete and finish well at NESCACs, I think we are not seeded as well as we would have hoped or liked,” O’Connor said. “It feels like we’re more of an underdog this time around.”

In the week leading up to the first postseason meet of the year for the Jumbos, the team is finishing its training and focusing on rest and recovery ahead of the meet.

“Training differs from person to person,” O’Connor said. “But generally, guys are tapering training based on when they expect to finish their season.”

The Jumbos kick off the championship season Saturday at Bowdoin with the NESCAC Championships, which Nichols explained is the focus of the program in the spring.

“The major goal of the postseason is to win NESCACs,” he said. “I think we have a really good shot at the title because of the quality of athletes we have in every event group and the depth that we see in a lot of events.”