4 first-place finishes highlight a busy weekend for women’s track and field

Senior Nathalie Bettez passes her competitors during the 3,000-meter race at the annual Branwen Smith-King classic on Jan. 26. Madeleine Oliver / The Tufts Daily

At the second annual Branwen Smith-King Invitational hosted at the Gantcher Center last Friday and Saturday, Tufts athletes captured first-place finishes in four events. The Jumbos finished second out of 19 teams on Saturday and third out of 13 teams on Friday. Earlier in the day, the team also sent four runners to Boston University’s John Thomas Terrier Classic to compete in the 4 x 400-meter relay.

On Saturday in the Gantcher Center, the Jumbos scored 130 points, good for second place out of a field of 19 other teams: Amherst, Brandeis, Bridgewater State, Colby-Sawyer, Conn. College, Emmanuel, Keene State, Merrimack, MIT, Plymouth State, Regis, Smith, Stonehill, UMass Boston, Wellesley, Wentworth, Wesleyan, Wheaton, WPI and Worcester State. Stonehill won the meet with 157 points.

The most impressive result of the action-packed day was junior Rhemi Toth’s first-place finish in the mile with a personal record of 5:02.47 — currently the ninth best time in the country once the time is converted to a banked track time. Senior and co-captain Kelsey Tierney also ran a personal best of 5:12.23, earning her third place in the mile race. Toth commented on her nationally ranked performance.

“It was just all the training that I put in in the fall and leading up to this,” Toth said. “Ideally by the end of the season I want to break [five minutes]. That’s probably one of my main goals and I also want to run as the mile leg on the distance medley relay that we might send to nationals.”

In the 600-meter run, first-year Tara Lowensohn came in second place at 1:41.00, setting a personal record. First-year Luana Machado won the event with a time of 1:38.77 in her first time competing in the event in collegiate competition.

“I had two main goals. The first one was just to qualify for [the New England Div. III Championships], and then the second one was to break 1:40,” Machado said. “I thought I could do it, but at the same time I was doubting it. But I did, and I felt really good afterwards.”

Other first-place finishes include junior Lauren Diaz, who won the 1,000 meters in 3:03.97, and senior Natalie Bettez — a cross country runner who has not raced in a track and field meet since December 2017 — who won the 3,000 meters with a personal record of 10:29.83.

The pentathlon, which was held on Friday, also featured three Tufts athletes in the top five. Senior Kylene DeSmith came in third and set a personal record with 2,975 points, and sophomore Hannah Norowitz came in fourth, setting a personal record of 2,726 points in the process. Sophomore Scarlet Bliss came in fifth with 2,723 points in her first collegiate pentathlon.

“Those three girls crushed it and they were awesome,” coach Kristen Morwick said. “They all PR’d [and] they all qualified for New Englands, so that was really impressive.”

Tufts also had noteworthy performances in several other events. In the 800-meter run, junior Julia Gake (2:23.77), senior Julia Noble (2:26.80) and sophomore Emily Murray (2:26.92) placed third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Senior Caitlin Porrazzo set a personal record in the 3,000-meter run in fourth place with her 10:39.66 finish. The 4 x 200 meter relay team of junior Raquel Whiting, junior Franny Kiles, sophomore Kristen Andersen and sophomore Olivia Schwern finished in second place at 1:50.13, and the 4 x 800-meter relay team of Murray, junior Lydia Heely, sophomore Alexandra Wolf and Tierney also finished in second place at 10:01.71. Senior and co-captain Evelyn Drake put up another strong performance in the weight throw at 48′ 4″ (14.73 meters).

“We didn’t have everyone competing in their top events, but we had a lot of individual winners,” Morwick said. “Overall, [it was a] pretty solid meet. It was kind of a gong-show in here — it was like 21 teams and it was just overwhelming. But, all things considered, we had some nice performances.”

Earlier on Friday, Lowensohn, Gake, Machado and first-year Hannah Neilon raced the 4 x 400 meters relay at Boston University. Their time of 3:59.82 was 3.05 seconds short of their season best from the Bowdoin Invitational, but it was the best finish in the event by a Division III team at the meet.

“We met our goal which was to break 4 minutes in the [4 x 400-meters], which was amazing,” Machado said. “The good thing about it is that after having that experience, as a relay team we know that we can do better, we know we can improve, and we know that from here on out, we will get faster. Our time wasn’t as great as we wanted it to be, but we know we can do better, and that’s just going to motivate us a little bit more.”

Morwick explained she also sent the relay team to the BU meet to prepare for high-level competitions later in the season.

“The future goal is to qualify a [4 x 400-meters relay team] for nationals, so it was just for them to get on a bank track and have the experience of running under a lot of competition and start to put that relay together,” Morwick said.

Saturday’s home meet was the second annual competition named in honor of Branwen Smith-King for her 35 years of work in Tufts Athletics Department. Smith-King, a native of Bermuda, was the women’s track and field and cross country coach from 1982 to 2000 before transitioning to an administrative role as assistant director of athletics and senior administrator from 2000 to 2017. She also had a successful career as a runner at Springfield College. One of her daughters is a Bermudian Olympian.

Smith-King made a surprise appearance at the meet, according to Morwick.

“We haven’t seen her in a while,” Morwick said. “It’s a really nice tribute to her because she has done so much for the track and field programs here, and also just Tufts athletics in general. It’s a special meet for us to host.”

In the spirit of Smith-King’s legacy of greatness, the Jumbos hope to build upon their success this weekend. They will send a distance medley relay team to New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEICAAA) Championships at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston on Friday and then will host the annual Cupid Challenge at the Gantcher Center on Saturday.