Cross country teams set ambitious goals for 2018 season

Junior Fernanda Brena sprints to the finish line at the Connecticut College Cross Country Invitational at Harkness Memorial State Park on Oct. 15, 2016. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily Archives

After months of individual training runs and long-distance workouts, followed by a few weeks running together, Tufts’ men’s and women’s cross country teams are ready to kick off their 2018 campaigns.

The men’s squad is coming off of a strong 2017 season, during which it placed highly in many of its meets and went on to finish sixth out of 11 teams at the NESCAC Championships. The Jumbos again competed well at the Div. III New England Regionals, posting an eighth-place finish out of 55 teams.

Tufts retained a large group of talented runners from last year’s team, including seniors Christian Swenson and Andrew Doherty Munro, as well as senior co-captains Colin Raposo, Brian Reaney and Dylan Jones. With such strong depth, the Jumbos have a good chance to build on their 2017 performance.

Getting in shape for the upcoming season is a slow process, as the runners must gradually ramp up their training so all the miles logged over the summer translate to the course.

“This season, we’re still getting in shape and turning everyone’s strong summer mileage into race-pace efforts,” assistant coach Michael Schmidt said. “We’re focusing on fine-tuning people’s fitness and gearing towards the pace that we’ll be running in the actual race.”

Reaney noted that the team has closed recent runs with a training technique called strides, which are short, high-energy bursts that train runners to have a strong kick toward the finish line.

“We also went to Franklin Park in Boston,” Reaney said. “That is where NESCACs are going to be hosted, and we’ve been running workouts there so we can familiarize with the course.”

In its first event last year, Tufts took second place at the eight-kilometer Bates Invitational, with Jones finishing in a time of 27:04.5 — good for 11th place. Raposo crossed the line just seconds behind him to finish 13th.

With the new season still young, the Jumbos face minimal pressure going into the 2018 edition of the Bates Invitational.

“It is relatively low-key, since there are only three teams competing,” Schmidt said. “Some are nervous to get started because they are so fit, and being really fit means that there’s going to be a couple more expectations. But I think this first meet is going to be a very casual introduction to racing.”

Tufts will have a more strategic game plan at more pivotal meets like the upcoming Purple Valley Classic (Sept. 22), the Paul Short Run (Sept. 29) and the NESCAC conference meet at Franklin Park (Oct. 27). Under the guidance of coach Joel Williams and assistant coaches Schmidt, Nick Guarnaccia and Jordan Silva, the Jumbos plan to head into each meet with a specific racing style in mind.

“Something our coach has been stressing that we want to do right off the bat this season is race aggressively,” Reaney said. “It’s important for us not to wait until the end of the season to peak. We want to practice putting ourselves in a position to win right from the beginning, rather than pretending like it’s all going to come together at the end.”

In contrast, Tufts’ women’s team hopes to gradually progress toward its fastest, most aggressive racing form over the course of the entire season.

“We tend to peak at the end and kind of pull together, and I think that is the great thing about our team,” senior co-captain Natalie Bettez said. “Although cross country is, at its fundamental, an individual sport, the team aspect really comes into play. I think we are really strong about that in the championship season.”

The Jumbos demonstrated this tendency during their 2017 campaign. They placed third of 11 teams at the NESCAC Championships and finished second among 56 teams at Div. III New England Regionals, which earned them a bid to NCAA Championships. The team ultimately placed seventh of 32 teams at NCAA Championships.

The absence of All-American Brittany Bowman (LA ’18) will be tough to overcome for the Jumbos. However, Bowman’s departure creates an opportunity for one of the team’s younger runners to climb into a prominent role.

“We’re definitely smaller this year, but I think it means that we can really focus more on each individual runner and have everyone race together,” Bettez said. “One of our goals, actually, for later in the season is to … have one meet where we have everyone run — so no one is injured and no one has to stay out. We always try to emphasize the importance of everyone having an impact, even if you’re not running.”

While all of the team’s members will be crucial to its success, Bettez and senior Olivia Barnett represent key pieces. The duo consistently finished among the top three Jumbos last fall. Other returners who look to build upon last season include senior co-captain Kelsey Tierney, junior Lydia Heely and sophomore Johanna Ross.

The team has seven meets definitively on its schedule, with three in September, three in October and one in November, but the tentative date on its calendar is perhaps the most noteworthy. The Jumbos are chasing a bid for the NCAA Championships, on Nov. 17 in Winneconne, Wisc. Entering her 18th season leading the women’s squad, coach Kristen Morwick guided the Jumbos to the national championship race for five consecutive years.

Both teams face a long and arduous road ahead, as they begin their 2018 campaigns with lofty goals in mind. Despite varying strategies, both hope to find themselves in top positions come mid-November.

The two teams are set to hit the ground running on Saturday morning at the Bates Invitational in New Gloucester, Maine.