Bettez becomes first Jumbo to win All-New England Championship in 38 years

Senior co-captain Natalie Bettez races ahead of the competition on her way to winning the Purple Valley Classic at Mt. Greylock High School on Sept. 22. Madeline Oliver / Tufts Track and Field

At Franklin Park on Saturday, Tufts senior co-captain Natalie Bettez had a performance for the record books. She clocked in a 17:57.85 time to win the All-New England Championship, a feat that no Tufts runner has accomplished since Kathy Whitcomb in 1975. Bettez was also recently named U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Athlete of the Week for the second time this season.

Meanwhile, as a team this weekend, Tufts finished the five-kilometer event with 222 points, which was good for eighth place out of the 24 teams in attendance. Fellow Div. III team MIT settled for second place with a score of 78 as Boston College claimed the victory, with a tally of 27.

First-year Anna Slager took 34th with the second-best time for the Jumbos, posting a 19:04.14. In third place was senior Olivia Barnett, who finished 61st with a time of 19:22.91. Four places behind Barnett was junior Lydia Heely, who came in a few seconds behind Barnett with a time of 19:25.79. Junior Nicole Kerrigan clocked in at 19:27.98, finishing fifth for Tufts. Seniors Julia Noble (19:42.43) and Caitlin Porrazzo (20:01.93) rounded out sixth and seventh for the Jumbos, placing 84th and 113th respectively.

This meet was quite unusual for Tufts because the team split its athletes between the varsity and sub-varsity races.

“We had to break the team up,” coach Kristen Morwick said. “We didn’t race what typically would have been our top seven in the varsity race. We kind of mixed people in both races, so it’s hard to say how we would have fared as a team if we put our best seven together.”

Morwick decided on how to split teams by simply putting the runners who did not race the prior weekend in the varsity race, with Heely also included in that group. Senior Kelsey Tierney, a runner in the sub-varsity race, would have been Tufts’ third finisher in the varsity race. However, it was her first meet of the season, so Morwick did not want her to feel a ton of pressure.

According to Morwick, as the meet was stacked with speedy competition from all divisions and an especially dominant pack of Boston College athletes, the Jumbos did not emphasize strategy too heavily this past weekend. Instead, their goal was to simply go out and see what they could accomplish.

The meet was certainly valuable for Tufts because NESCACs will be hosted at the same venue in just a few short weeks.

“It was a fun course to run on because there was a lot of diversity in the different terrains we were going on and our surroundings,” Slager said. “At one point, we were in the woods, and there is a good section where we pass by the parents in all of the tents. There’s usually a big crowd there to cheer you on, and there’s also parts where you’re more alone. It’s a good time to kind of evaluate where you are in the race and pass people.”

The more secluded part of the race was where Bettez made her most pivotal moves. She was ultimately able to pass the entirety of the Boston College pack to get into first and then maintain the lead for the duration of the race. Bettez explained that she assessed how she felt as the race progressed, and because she felt good heading into the woods, she capitalized on her position to steadily pass some runners ahead of her.

“[The Boston College runners] took it out pretty hard,” Bettez said. “I was behind them a little bit, but I was just trying to make sure I didn’t go out too fast and kind of see how I felt. They were in sight the whole time mostly, but I didn’t come up on them and try to take the lead until about 1000 meters to go.”

Seeing Bettez make history was the clear highlight of the day for her coach, and an even better cherry-on-top because no one was really expecting the outcome, including Bettez herself.

Her teammates were beyond thrilled to see Bettez put on such a show.

“I went crazy—I was so excited for her,” Slager said. “Usually I walk up to her after we both finish. I was like, ‘Hey, how’d you do?’ and she was like, ‘I won’ and then they announced it. It was the first time in years that a Tufts runner had won. I went to hug her, but I hugged her too hard, so I picked her up and was just, like, holding her … I am so happy for her.”

Meanwhile at the sub-varsity five-kilometer event, the women’s team emerged with a third place outcome. Tierney, the first Jumbo finisher of the race, took 13th place with a time of 19:13.06. She was followed by junior Jennifer Jackson in 15th (19:17.06), and sophomores Olivia Martin (19:23.83) and Alexandra Wolf (19:26.75), who took 19th and 20th, respectively.

Also competing at Franklin Park this past Saturday was the men’s cross country team, which, unlike the women’s team, used pack racing to its advantage to claim third place out of 14 teams. The men’s cross country team only participated in the sub-varsity eight-kilometer race, finishing with 87 points on the meet, losing only to Northeastern (17) and MIT (51). 

Leading the Jumbos was first-year John Cyprus who clocked in 26:37.70 for an 11th-place finish. Shortly behind him was fellow first-year Sam Gatti in 13th with a time of 26:40.80. The third and fourth finishers for Tufts were sophomore Patrick Nero (27:01.34) and first-year Joseph Harmon (27:04.60). Junior Matt D’Anieri, first-year John Pappo and senior Christian Swenson rounded out the top seven finishers for the Jumbos.

Cyprus was satisfied with his team’s showing, given that the team did not feature all its best runners.

“When we are full strength, not only will we have some faster runners in there, but I think we’ll also have a little more team morale and be a little more upbeat just because we will be racing with some more people that we train with,” Cyprus said.

Tufts will send both its cross country teams to the Conn. College Invitational in Waterford, Conn. on Oct. 13, where both teams are hoping to run at full strength. This will be Tufts’ final meet before the NESCAC Championship two weekends from now.