The Tufts Women’s track team came in with one goal this year — to learn how to be a successful team together after graduating several key runners.
“I think that wanting to prove we could be as good a team as before without relying on the ‘heavy-hitters’ was a huge motivation for our team,” graduating senior co-captain Rita Donohoe said.
Indeed, athletes from all classes and events stepped up to fill the gaps left by the previous year’s seniors, and the results showed.
“The juniors and seniors this year showed a lot of growth,” Donohoe said. “It was the first season where we really couldn’t rely so heavily on just a few members of the team.”
After last semester’s successful indoor season, the Jumbos began the spring season with several runners attending qualifying meets like All-New Englands. Throughout the spring, several Jumbos pushed themselves to higher levels. Personal records were broken at almost every meet.
Rising senior Annalisa DeBari continued to dominate in the 100-meter hurdle, relentlessly moving up in the national rankings with her speedy splits. Rising senior Jennifer Sherwill gave consistently strong performances in the discus, hammer throw and shot put, and currently ranks at No. 43 in the nation for the discus. Rising senior Brittany Bowman was a force in the long distance events all season long, garnering several first-place finishes and national rankings.
For their outdoor preseason, the Jumbos headed to Las Vegas, where they raced against Div. I and II teams in the blistering heat. Although Tufts had a 12th place finish out of 14, numerous Jumbo runners gave their higher-division competitors a run for their money.
Coming back home, the Jumbos started their outdoor season off spectacularly with a second-place finish out of 22 teams at the Snowflake Classic, hosted by Tufts.
A couple of weeks later, the Jumbos finished first out of six at the Sunshine Classic, a home invitational that also serves as their alumni meet.
These performances continued throughout the season, and the Jumbos proved their competitiveness in almost every event.
“One of the best things about this past season was seeing so many people improve as a result of hard work and determination,” Donohoe said. “Watching Annalisa become a nationally competitive athlete was really rewarding and I think it motivated others on the team to push themselves too. [Graduating senior] Sam Cox has also shown incredible improvement in the 1,500, beating her PR from last year by almost eight seconds with a new PR of 4:42.”
Despite a strong regular season, the NESCAC championships did not turn out the way the Jumbos wanted it to. Tufts finished sixth out of eleven, which didn’t sit well with many high-aiming team members.
“Our NESCAC performance was disappointing this year,” Donohoe said. “Mainly because our placement at the end of the meet didn’t really accurately reflect the caliber of our team.”
Despite a less-than-ideal finish, several Jumbos still had a stellar day in their respective events.
Bowman has consistently dominated long-distance events all season, and at the NESCAC Championships, she won the 10,000-meter with a blistering time of 35:37.17, a full minute faster than her closest competitor. The run ranked Bowman seventh nationally.
Rising junior Brita Dawson came in third in the long-jump with a jump of 17 feet 4.5 inches, which earned her all-conference honors.
“The jumpers had a great day at NESCACS,” rising junior Paige Fielding said. “[Rising junior] Trish Blumeris had a huge triple jump that ended up being called a foul by the slimmest of margins. It would have been a big PR for her.”
Fellow rising junior Sydney Ladner placed fourth in the pole vault at 10 feet 2 inches, graduating senior Lindsay Atkeson took third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 11:33.45 and Sherwill placed third in the discus with a throw of 127 feet 11 inches, earning all-conference honors. Sherwill also placed fifth in the shot put with a throw of 38 feet 6.25 inches.
The Jumbos then participated in the New England Div. III Championships, claiming tenth place in the event. The Jumbos failed to win an event at the tournament, but improved on their 14th-place standing after day one, thanks to third-place performances from Sherwill in the discus and the foursome of Cox and rising sophomores Lauren Diaz, Julia Gake and Nicole Kerrigan in the 4×800-meter relay.
The Jumbos have just one event left in the regular season, NCAA championships, taking place Thursday through Saturday in Ohio. After putting up two All-American performances in the indoor season, Tufts is looking to add to its accomplishments this year.
“As a team, we’re now focused on the rest of the postseason and have a strong desire to bounce back from NESCACs,” Donohoe said. “I think there are a lot of good performances to come in the next few weeks, and I have no doubt that our team will prove we are better than a sixth-place finish.”