Duvivier’s national title leads Tufts to 13th-place finish at NCAA Championships

Sophomore Matt D'Anieri runs the first leg of the 4x800-meter relay at the Branwen Smith-King Invitational on Jan. 27. Erik Britt / The Tufts Daily

On Friday and Saturday, the Tufts men’s track and field team competed at the NCAA Div. III Championships held at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala. It was a strenuous weekend for the Jumbos, but the athletes competed at the top level and placed highly in their respective events. Led by a host of All-American performances, including a national title in the high jump for senior Stefan Duvivier, the Jumbos earned enough team points to tie for 13th place in the 66-team field.

On Friday, the distance medley relay (DMR) team posted a superb performance, while Tufts’ runners faced strong fields in a pair of individual events. Junior Christian Swenson ran the first leg (1,200 meters) of the DMR and was followed by senior co-captain Drew DiMaiti on the 400-meter leg and sophomore Matt D’Anieri on the 800-meter leg. Junior Colin Raposo anchored the relay in the 1,600 meters. After qualifying for the race with a 10:00.62 mark (converted to 9:52.58) at the Tufts National Qualifying Meet, the team combined for a time of 10:00.49 to finish eighth in Birmingham. The top-eight finish earned all four Tufts runners All-American honors.

“It was very exciting to make All-American in the DMR,” DiMaiti said. “It was a great group of guys, and we really left it all out there to place in what was a very competitive field.”

Junior Hiroto Watanabe, a member of the DMR team that qualified for Nationals, did not partake in the event in order to focus on his individual race. Nonetheless, the Yarmouth Port, Mass. native did not miss out on All-American honors. Watanabe competed in the first qualifying heat of the 800 meters, grabbing an eighth-place finish with a time of 1:53.13 — only 0.10 seconds in front of the ninth-place finisher — to advance to the event finals on Saturday. Watanabe’s qualification earned him All-American honors for the second season in a row, as he placed eighth at last year’s NCAA Championships.

Watanabe was Tufts’ sole individual runner to qualify for the finals of an event at Nationals. Junior Anthony Kardonsky missed out on a qualifying spot by four places in the 200-meter dash after finishing 12th out of the 15 with a time of 22.15 seconds. DiMaiti also failed to qualify for the finals of the 400 meters, placing 15th in 49.96 seconds.

Tufts ended the first day of the national competition tied for 28th place thanks to the DMR team’s eighth-place finish, which gained one point.

Saturday was a more successful day for the Jumbos. Duvivier clinched the national title in the high jump, clearing the bar on nine of his first 10 attempts. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native bested his personal record — which was also the Tufts record — on his second attempt at the height of 6’11 ¾” (2.13 meters), but didn’t stop there. After Duvivier cleared the bar at 7’1″ (2.16 meters), his last remaining competitor, Rowan senior co-captain Harrison Escoffery, failed to do so. Duvivier ultimately maxed out at a staggering 7’2 ½” (2.20 meters) to win the national title, coming up just short of the all-time meet record of 7’3 ¾” (2.23 meters). With the fourth-best indoor mark in Div. III history, Duvivier — who played for the Tufts varsity basketball team as a first-year and sophomore — earned the second All-American honors of his career and claimed 10 points for the Jumbos.

“I’m a firm believer in trusting the process,” Duvivier told the Daily in an email. “Sam [Wuest], my jumps coach, put me through an incredible training program and all I did was follow it. Having a full track pre-season for the first time ever, not occupied with basketball was pretty key to my success also. These last couple of days, especially the last few days away from the stresses of classes, have been very restful, comparatively, to the rest of the season. That played a big part in being mentally and physically ready for competition. It feels great being national champion, it was a long time coming and I hope to repeat this coming outdoor season.”

Watanabe also had a strong performance on Saturday, placing sixth in the finals of the 800 meters with a time of 1:53.64 to earn three points. In total, the Jumbos earned fourteen points over the course of the weekend to tie for 13th, their best finish since 2007, when they tied for seventh.

With the conclusion of NCAA Championships, Tufts’ track and field athletes must now shift their focus to the fast-approaching outdoor season. The men’s team is back in action over spring break, as it will compete at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif. on Saturday and again on March 24.