Tufts placed 25th out of 32 teams at the Div. III NCAA Championship in Winneconne, Wis. on Nov. 17, as the team returned to the national competition for the first time in three years.
The 25th-place finish in the 8K event saw Tufts accrue a total score of 601, finishing just ahead of NESCAC foe Bates (604), one of four other NESCAC teams in the national championship. North Central College, which had the top two finishers in the entire field, seniors Dhruvil Patel (24:24.5) and Al Baldonado (24:29.7), came out on top with a score of 43.
Senior co-captain Brian Reaney finished first for the Jumbos, as the Portsmouth, N.H. native overcame an early fall to finish 95th out of 280 runners with a time of 25:34.5.
“The race packed up really tightly for the first mile,” Reaney said. “It got out fast, and because it’s Nationals, the range of times that people run is pretty narrow, so everyone’s sort of in the same place and everyone’s fighting for a position. I actually fell a half-mile in. A couple people in front of me fell, and it basically just created this domino effect … it was unavoidable. So from there, I was trying to make up ground throughout the race.”
Reaney finished less than half a second ahead of fellow senior co-captain Colin Raposo, who placed 97th overall with a time of 25:34.9.
“For the last couple miles, I was focusing more on moving up on people,” Reaney said. “I ended up catching Colin right at the line. I saw him probably five meters before the line and happened to have the momentum to pass him.”
Raposo explained that, unlike many of his teammates, he was able to avoid a fall at Lake Breeze Golf Course.
“I was actually lucky in that my race strategy was to get out hard,” Raposo said. “I was up further towards the front when the fall happened, unlike a bunch of my teammates. So they went out a bit more conservatively, and unfortunately, it was [seniors] Rory [Buckman], Andrew [Doherty Munro], Hiroto [Watanabe] and Brian [Reaney] who all got caught up in that fall, which definitely set them back. I got out really well but faded a lot. So I had the opposite problem as the people who were fighting their way up through the race.”
The Jumbos were scattered throughout the pack after the big fall. Senior co-captain Dylan Jones clocked in at 25:53.9 for 150th overall, while sophomore Peter Horvath finished in 26:28.1 to place fourth for Tufts and 233rd overall. Watanabe finished close behind Horvath, clocking a time of 26:29.2 for 235th. Doherty Munro (26:48.7) and Buckman (26:57.3) rounded out the Jumbos’ top seven, finishing 251st and 259th, respectively.
Reaney and Raposo both emphasized the effect of the fall, which Reaney said included dozens of people, on the team’s performance.
“That was pretty tough for our team. Falling in a race is obviously not ideal — it can be pretty detrimental to somebody’s race,” Reaney. “It’s one of those things where you fall, and once you get up, it can be really demoralizing [to feel] like you’ve lost a lot of ground. It’s really difficult to try to make that ground back up and adjust your mindset quickly enough to be able to keep going.”
After failing to qualify for Nationals in each of the last two years, the team was excited for its opportunity to compete against the top competition in Div. III.
“We focus our season on Regionals so we can get to Nationals, so it is the goal of the season,” Reaney said. “And then from there, you have to be like ‘Ok, now that we’ve made it, our work’s not done.’ We have to put [ourselves] in a mindset where we’re going to still be aggressive in a meet we weren’t sure we were going to qualify for.”
Raposo added that the team was pleased with its top-25 finish, as it felt it was able to prove itself after not being ranked in the top 30 teams for much of the season. The Jumbos also enjoyed traveling to Wisconsin together, as team members who did not compete rented vans to cheer on their teammates.
“It’s an incredible atmosphere to be halfway across the country and have all these people there supporting you,” Raposo said. “It’s something really special about cross country and the sport in general.”
Reflecting on the season, Reaney and Raposo both commented on how the team’s lack of a clear top runner bolstered its ability to compete collectively.
“We had this goal [to qualify for Nationals], and we achieved it and it was really great, especially after not making Nationals for a couple years,” Reaney said. “We’re also not a team that has a really strong front runner. We have a pack of guys who are good, but no one who’s really a stud … it felt like more of a group effort in that way.”
Raposo said that he was proud of the team’s ability to work together.
“It’s really fun to go out there and race next to everyone that you’re training with every day,” Raposo said. “I think that was the big takeaway for most of us. We really went out there and did it for each other.”