Tufts outshines competition at last meet before NESCACs

First-year Emma Dzwierzynski and senior Danielle Skufca compete in the steeplechase at the Sunshine Classic on April 21. Madeleine Oliver / Tufts Track and Field

Under an appropriately bright blue sky, the Tufts women’s track and field team took first place at the third annual Tufts Sunshine Classic on Saturday. The Jumbos won 13 events on Clarence “Ding” Dussault Track in their final tuneup before this weekend’s NESCAC Championships.

Junior Kelsey Tierney explained that the warmer weather was a boon for the team.

“The perfect weather was really key for a lot of people focused on improving their times and marks,” Tierney told the Daily in an email. “Everyone on the team knows I’m the biggest wimp when it comes to the cold, so I really appreciated the conditions this weekend. The warmer weather definitely helps everyone get properly warmed up.”

Sophomore Julia Gake concurred on the value of favorable conditions.

“It’s really nice to have heat [and] to have warmer weather so that everybody’s loose and ready to go,” Gake said.

The Jumbos’ most notable performance came in the javelin competition, as sophomore Julia Kissel’s 39.81-meter heave surpassed her own school record of 39.64 meters. For context, no other Tufts athlete in history has thrown a javelin more than 38.04 meters. Now, Kissel has done it twice in her first two years in Medford. Her program-best distance currently ranks 25th in the country.

Kissel related how she managed to overcome less-than-favorable wind conditions to win the event.

A headwind can slow down the javelin significantly, while a tailwind can push it a few extra feet,” Kissel told the Daily in an email. “There was a bit [of] a headwind Saturday, which is always nerve-racking, but the secret is to throw the javelin at the perfect angle so that it cuts through the wind currents and minimizes its air resistance.”

Kissel explained that another key to her success was maintaining mental acuity and focus.

It’s really hard to get yourself into a headspace where you’re not trying to read into every movement and possible mistake,” Kissel said. “[But] when I was throwing then, my mind felt completely clear, and I was calm.”

Kissel wasn’t the only record-breaker on Saturday, as a number of other Jumbos met or set personal-best marks in their respective events. In the other field events, juniors Kylene DeSmith and Sharon Kelmar matched or beat their personal records. DeSmith posted a career-high 10.57 meters in the triple jump, while Kelmar reached 3.10 meters in the pole vault. Kelmar’s mark matched her performance at last week’s Silfen Invitational, which tied her for fifth in program history.

Meanwhile on the track, Tierney won the 1,500 meters in a time of 4:46.20. Her time not only beat first-year Jumbo Sara Mitchell, who finished second, by more than four seconds, but also improved on her previous best — set at the Tufts Quad Meet earlier this month — by over six seconds.

“This was the second race I’ve won this season and in college, and I think focusing on being competitive this year, rather than concentrating on times, has been really fun and helped me run faster,” Tierney said. “The 1,500 isn’t my main event, but because it’s really harsh on our bodies to run an all-out 5k or 10k every weekend, we usually switch off doing an ‘off’ event every other weekend. It has been fun to run the 1,500, focusing on mentality without any real pressure to get my time down, but it’s also been nice to see my time drop this season.”

Gake also set a personal record in the 400-meter dash, finishing in 58.91 seconds. Sophomores Lauren Diaz and Ann Roberts also established new outdoor highs. Diaz finished the 800 meters in 2:18.40, while Roberts ran the 5,000 meters in 18:49.88. Meanwhile, senior co-captain Annalisa DeBari posted a mark of 14.75 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles to tie her career-best time. The Melrose, Mass. native’s time is tied for 12th across Div. III in the 2018 outdoor season.

Tufts was also successful in the relay events, recording two victories. The quartet of sophomore Raquel Whiting, DeBari, junior co-captain Brita Dawson and first-year Olivia Schwern took first place in the 4×100-meter relay with a time of 49.51 seconds. Likewise, the foursome of first-year Sydney McKiernan, Gake, sophomore Nehalem Kunkle-Read and DeBari won the 4×400-meter relay in 4:00.30. The latter group’s time is currently 28th in the nation.

Overall, Gake was satisfied with her and her teammates’ results.

“It was really nice to PR in the 400,” she said. “In the [4×400 relay], we really wanted a better time to get in a better heat at NESCACs.”

Tufts graduate Kelly Allen (LA ’13) also competed in the meet as part of a one-woman “Jumbo Alumni” team. Allen — whose personal-best discus throw of 49.83 meters remains the school record and whose performance at the 2013 NCAA Div. III Outdoor National Championships included a second-place finish in discus — competed in three different events on Saturday. She won two of them: the discus (42.96 meters) and the hammer throw (45.86 meters).

The meet had a certain bittersweet flavor for 10 members of the Tufts team, for whom the Sunshine Classic was their final meet in Medford. Fortunately, the dectet of Jumbo seniors finished their careers at the Ellis Oval on the highest possible note. Tufts finished the meet with 373 points, more than the other six schools combined.

The team will compete in the NESCAC Championships at Trinity on Saturday. The women from Medford have won the event just once in 30 years, with the 2013 squad taking home the trophy. According to Tierney, this year’s team is primed for what comes next.

“I think our team is much more well prepared for NESCACs this year compared to last,” Tierney said. “For the first time since I have been at Tufts, we have different people in each distance event with potential to score. I think having a lot of different people doing well in different events, rather than relying on one or two people to get points, will help us to perform well as a team at NESCACs, in other postseason meets and next year.”