Bettez leads women’s cross country to fourth-place finish at NESCAC Championship

Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily Archives Senior co-captain Natalie Bettez looks to pass a Middlebury runner at the Connecticut College Invitational at Harkness Memorial State Park on Oct. 15, 2016.

Despite muddy conditions on the course at Franklin Park in Boston, the Jumbos finished fourth at Saturday’s NESCAC Championship. Middlebury earned 47 points from its top five runners to win its 14th NESCAC Championship in program history, while three-time defending champion Williams finished second with 73 points. Wesleyan (84 points) placed third, followed by Tufts with 124 points.

Tufts ran a 5k course at Franklin Park just three weeks ago in the All-New England Championship. Senior co-captain Natalie Bettez finished first with a time of 17:57.85, becoming the first Tufts runner in 38 years to win the event.

In this weekend’s 6k event, however, Bettez was pipped to first by Colby sophomore Sophia Gorman, who clocked a time of 21:54.8 — a marked improvement from her 30th-place finish last year. Bettez followed Gorman to the finish line, placing second in a time of 22:08.4.

“Based on my experience with championship races, you never know who is going to have a breakout day, so my goal was just to put myself in the front pack,” Bettez said. “The first-place finisher had a great race and stayed strong the whole way through, so I just tried to run my race.”

With her second-place finish, Bettez earned All-NESCAC honors for the third consecutive year — a testament to her remarkable consistency. After finishing second at the conference championship meet as a sophomore, she placed sixth last year.

“I am happy with my senior season, overall,” the Bolton, Mass. native said. “It’s nice to see the work from the last four years pay off, and [it was] a great way to finish my career at Tufts.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the Tufts pack performed admirably, finishing within seconds of each other. Senior Olivia Barnett placed second for the Jumbos, finishing 24th overall with a time of 23:24.4. First-year Anna Slager, in her NESCAC Championship debut, crossed the line in 23:40.3 for 29th place. Junior Lydia Heely (23:49.1) rounded out Tufts’ top five, finishing 33rd overall, while senior co-captain Kelsey Tierney (23:53.1) finished 36th.

“I think we struggled with the elements,” Slager said. “It was just a difficult race with the [number] of people there. We had several falls because of the slipperiness of the course. I personally feel it was a harder 6k than we had run before because there were more hills than our previous 6k [races] … We just have a lot of room for improvement.”

Tierney also commented on a similar sense of disappointment in her personal results.

“I’m not happy with my own performance,” she said. “I typically have my best races when I go out too fast and just hang on for as long as I can, but with the conditions, I figured the race would go out slow and that if I went out slow, I would have more energy to keep myself from falling. I was wrong because about [one kilometer] in, I realized Middlebury’s [top six] runners and a bunch of Williams and Bowdoin runners were already way ahead of me. That early gap ended up being too big to close.”

Despite finishing among the upper echelon of teams at the conference championships, the Jumbos were not satisfied with their result.

“We feel that we could have done much better,” Bettez said. “Every team has off days, though, and … we had a lot of factors working against us.”

The poor weather created controversy among the runners around the conference’s decision to hold the event.

“The conditions were terrible, but they were terrible for everyone out there,” Tierney said. “One of our runners, Lydia [Heely], wiped out really hard right in front of me in some thick mud on a sharp turn. It was a really hard fall, and I was immediately worried about her hip or that she wouldn’t be able to finish, but she got right back up and pulled through for us … I honestly think the NESCAC should have postponed the meet until Sunday, but I guess there were concerns with the hotels for visiting teams. I don’t say this because I think we would have placed better in normal weather, but because concussions are dangerous and impact day-to-day life outside of training.”

The team will travel to Brunswick, Maine on Nov. 10 for the NCAA Regional Championships, hosted by Bowdoin. The Jumbos will have to show improvement there if they wish to keep their season alive, with a bid to the NCAA Championship on the line. Tufts has placed among the top three teams at the regional meet in each of the last three years, and the team feels optimistic about its prospects this year.

“We’re all really excited for Regionals and really need to show up as a team because … we are a top Div. III team and we deserve to be at the top,” Barnett told the Daily in an email. “I think if we all go into Regionals with strong, rested legs and a good mentality we can crush it. It’s also a flat course which is great and everyone comes and cheers with posters of our faces … Regionals last year was my personal best race ever in cross-country and our team did amazingly – hopefully we can do that again this year.”

Tierney agreed that the flat course will aid the team and expressed confidence in the team’s ability to put this weekend’s disappointment behind it.

“I think the team will bounce back, like we did last year, and place second or third at Regionals,” she said. “That course is extremely flat and fast, which really benefits me and some of our other runners.”


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