Tufts hosts inaugural Branwen Smith-King Invitational

Sophomore Julia Gake races at the Branwen Smith-King Invitational at the Gantcher Center on Jan. 27, 2018. (Erik Britt / The Tufts Daily)

The No. 20 Tufts women’s track and field team wrapped up its weekend with a strong showing in the inaugural Branwen Smith-King Invitational, placing fifth out of the 16 competing schoolsThe Tufts-hosted event honored Smith-King, a prominent figure in the Tufts athletic department for 35 years who left the university last spring.

“She was a great supporter of the team,” senior co-captain Brittany Bowman said. “She always followed the cross-country and track teams, no matter what.”

After 18 years of coaching the women’s track and cross country teams, Smith-King became the assistant director of Tufts athletics in 2000.  Bowman said Smith-King continued to offer a caring and supportive presence despite less direct contact with the teams. Bowman recalled Smith-King supplying the team with earwarmers before 2016 NCAA Championships in Iowa, which at first seemed unconventional but proved vital to surviving the chilly March conditions.

While no Jumbos walked away as individual winners at the Invitational, the quartet of senior co-captain Annalisa DeBari and sophomores Nehalem Kunkle-Read, Raquel Whiting and Julia Gake won the 4×400-meter relay in an impressive 4:05.43. Their time, when converted to 4:02.22 for a banked track, ranks 13th nationally. Tufts also featured three individual second-place finishers, including Gake in the 600 meters (1:38.23), fellow sophomore Rhemi Toth in the 1000 meters (3:03.02) and first-year Emily Murray in the 800 meters (2:23.34).

“Yesterday was actually the first day I ran my 800 with the mindset I wanted,” Murray told the Daily in an email. “I feel like I do best when I run with the mindset of ‘pass as many people as possible’ rather than focus on just time. I try to focus on getting out fast in the first 400 and then just holding on in the second one.”

Another relay, the 4x800m, featured junior Sarah Perkins with first-years Olivia Martin, Alexandra Wolf and Murray. The foursome placed second by breaking 10 minutes, coming in at 9:52.54. Perkins also ran a standout time in the mile, snagging fifth with 5:12.99 — less than five seconds off first place. The converted time of 5:09.93 is the 33rd best mark in the nation. 

Additionally, sophomore Lauren Diaz finished less than three seconds behind Toth in the 1000 meters, placing fourth (3:05.96). First-year Olivia Schwern ran her way to a top-six finish in the 200-meter dash (27.17), as did junior Kelsey Tierney in the 5K (18.53.08).

The Branwen-Smith King Invitational was not the only place the Jumbos competed this weekend. On Friday, Bowman finished 12th in a 3K race at the John Thomas Terrier Classic at Boston University, which featured some of the top runners from Div. I, II and III from around the region.

“[Running alongside such great runners] motivates me to run faster,” Bowman said. “The strategy is to fall [a little] behind and pace behind them. [Then] it’s easier to get a good time.”

Just a week prior, at the Bowdoin Invitational, Bowman ran an adjusted mile time of 4:55.95, good for fourth overall nationally in Div. III. Her efforts, along with those of the other upperclassmen, certainly have not gone unnoticed.

“Many of [the upperclassmen runners] have come into this track season and just killed it, including — but of course not limited to — ‘Rhem’ [Toth], Lauren [Diaz], and Brittany [Bowman],” Murray said. “I feel like they help the [first-years] prepare by retelling their own past experiences or just passing on any racing wisdom they have from their additional years on the team.”

In helping the underclassmen prepare for meets, the team’s leaders help them compete on the track. First-years Scarlet Bliss and Murray both qualified for the New England Div. III Championship in the high jump and 800 meters, respectively, according to Bowman.

“People feel like they’re contributing to the team,” Bowman said. “[Div. III Championships are] something you can check off, and it’s exciting to see it written down on paper. Each week, the goal is to have more and more individuals qualify for Div. IIIs. [It’s impressive] to see performances like that from Scarlet [Bliss] and Emily [Murray].”

The Jumbos now look ahead to the Cupid Challenge in Boston, Mass. this weekend, with New England Div. III Championships just two weeks after that.

“I want to improve my pre-race attitude [and also] focus on pushing myself and staying strong in the middle of my race, especially lap three of the 800m,” Murray said.

With the meets coming thick and fast, the Jumbos will seek to maintain the positive impact made by Smith-King on the program by competing with the attitude exemplified by Murray: staying strong.