Tufts athletes climb national rankings in preparation for NCAA Championships

First-year Olivia Schwern vies to pass a Williams competitor at the Cupid Challenge on Feb. 3. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

On Saturday, the Tufts women’s track and field team competed in a qualifying meet at the Gantcher Center. The purpose of the meet was to give athletes a final chance to improve their positions going into the NCAA Championships, which will begin on March 9 in Birmingham, Ala. The national meet will include the top 17 athletes in individual events and the top 12 relay teams in Div. III. Hopeful qualifiers outside of the top 17 also have a chance to compete, depending on the NCAA’s decision.

In Saturday’s meet, Tufts senior co-captain Annalisa DeBari bested her own school record in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.80 seconds. The Melrose, Mass. native had set a new Tufts record with a mark of 8.83 seconds at the New England Div. III Championships on Feb. 17. With her improved time, DeBari will compete as the fourth-highest qualifier at Nationals. The captain noted that she was very pleased with her record-breaking performance from the weekend.

“Breaking the school record again is definitely exciting for me,” DeBari said. “Qualification is not my top concern. My primary goal is to advance my championship position. Every school will hold a qualification meet of their own, so if you don’t compete hard enough, other athletes will result in a higher-seeded position than you. I’m happy with the result and will try to advance even more in the championship.”

DeBari’s record-breaking performance was not the only highlight of the Tufts-hosted meet. The Jumbos’ distance medley relay (DMR) team also improved its national standing during the qualification meet. Sophomore Rhemi Toth, sophomore Julia Gake, first-year Olivia Martin and senior co-captain Brittany Bowman combined to run the 4,000-meter event in 11:53.52. When adjusted to account for Birmingham-Southern College’s banked track — where the NCAA Championships will be held — this mark equates to a time of 11:45.96. Toth kicked things off in the 1,200-meter portion of the race with a time of 3:37, followed by Gake’s mark of 59.50 seconds in the 400 and Martin’s 2:18 in the 800. Bowman then anchored the squad to a fourth-place finish by running the 1,600 meters in 4:51. The foursome now goes into the championship meet ranked 10th in the DMR in Div. III, although Bowman will be replaced by junior Sarah Perkins so Bowman can focus on her individual events.

Tufts coach Kristen Morwick expressed her excitement for the team’s performance at the qualifying meet.

“The distance medley relay squad really put on a show under pressure,” Morwick said. “If you are the No. 1 squad [in qualifying], then you don’t have that much pressure. But for them, they had to do their best in order to secure a position in the top 10.”

Morwick offered further perspective on the DMR team, as well as on Bowman, who qualified for three individual events at Nationals.

“Now that [the DMR has] secured the 10th seed, I would expect them to further challenge themselves when competing against other, better athletes,” Morwick said. “The level of competitiveness in the championship will definitely push them forward. Bowman is our star — I don’t worry about her too much. She is self-motivated and will want to earn a top-three finish at the Championships because the gap between her and athletes ahead is not so big.”

While none of Tufts’ field athletes qualified for Nationals, they still competed hard in the qualifying meet. In the weight throw, senior Jennifer Sherwill notched her season-high distance with a 13.69-meter mark.

The final qualification positions for the NCAA Championships were announced at midnight on Saturday, and the Jumbos officially qualified six athletes, their most since the 2010-11 season. Bowman, who will look to secure All-American honors for the fifth straight season, will have to deal with a packed schedule. The Camden, Maine native ranks fourth in the mile, fourth in the 3,000 meters and seventh in the 5,000 meters. The DMR team, in the tenth spot, holds the other top-ten position. The foursome’s qualifying time is only 0.07 seconds behind the ninth-seeded team from the Coast Guard Academy.

The Tufts athletes will travel to Birmingham, Ala. for the culmination of their indoor season this weekend.