The Jumbos finished second at the NESCAC championship this weekend, their best finish in program history. After four third-place finishes between the 2008–2009 and 2012–2013 seasons, the team had not returned to the podium until this weekend.
Tufts bested perennial power Amherst, who has finished second in the NESCAC for the last three years, has never dropped from the top four in the NESCAC’s existence and has never finished lower than Tufts by the season’s last day. Whether the Jumbos can force the Mammoths into second-place extinction remains to be seen in the years to come.
“At the beginning of the year we set a goal in mind just to be the best we possibly could be, and we all unified on this goal and it really just all came together really well,” first-year Mary Hufziger said. “It was just a great experience training together with all of these powerful women.”
Finishing the competition with 1,439.5 points, Tufts was 433.5 points behind first-place Williams, who swam away with the NESCAC title with 1,873 points. Amherst was much closer to Tufts with 1,322 points, but Tufts held its own every day of the four-day meet, finishing second on the leaderboard every evening. Team culture and unity have been recurring strengths for the team according to sophomore Amy Socha.
“We all have been on the same page all season. We all have been looking forward to this and all working together really well, and we’ve been working so hard,” Socha said. We all put in the effort and made it happen so that’s really what I attribute the success to the team all being on the same page and knowing what we want and knowing how to get there.”
Highlighting the Jumbos’ performances were 14 school records and 17 national B-cut times across the four days of swimming and diving. Socha won the Jumbos’ lone victory of the four-day-long meet on Sunday in the 200-yard butterfly.
On Thursday, Hufziger, sophomore Abby Claus, junior Grace Goetcheus and senior Colleen Doolan were the first Jumbos in the water, placing second in the 800-yard relay with a 7:28.71, good enough for a school record. The performance was emblematic of things to come for Tufts; Socha’s 200-yard portion of the B-heat 800-yard freestyle relay set a school record and helped the relay team finish 13th.
In the 200-yard freestyle relay on Friday, first-years Hannah Spencer and Anne Younger, along with sophomore Sasha Fong and junior Brooke Bernstein teamed up to finish fourth, good for 52 points. Goetcheus smashed her own record in the 200-yard individual medley, one of six school records set on day two.
On Saturday, Hufziger’s 1:51.27 beat Socha’s 200-yard freestyle from two days before on a day where three new school records were set. In the 100-yard freestyle, Hufziger broke another program record with a time of 51.84, shattering the former record of 52.29 set in the 2013 NESCACs by Samantha Sliwinski (LA ’15, M ’17). With this time, Hufziger also won the consolation final.
Hufziger cites the support of her teammates as a contributing factor for her success in this race.
“Looking up and seeing the Tufts banner on the other side of the pool, I knew I had to represent my team and get the highest place finish for them because we wanted to get the second place so bad,” Hufziger said. “I just wanted to swim as fast as possible for my teammates at the end of the lane and behind my lane and I knew throughout the race that the finish was the most important thing.”
On the last day of the NESCAC meet, sophomore Sook-Hee Evans was the first Jumbo in the water in the 1,650-yard freestyle, finishing in sixth and securing the Jumbos another precious 24 points. Sophomore Lily Kurtz finished strong in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:20.57, good enough for third place. In what was perhaps Tufts’ most impressive performance all year, Socha beat out all competitors in the 200-yard butterfly. It was Tufts’ first victory in a NESCAC championship meet since 2014.
Consistently strong team leadership and mentality made the difference this season, according to Hufziger.
“As demonstrated by our captains, I mean they always gave us pre-race speeches to really pump us up and all women supported each other throughout the bad times and good times,” she said. “On the training trip we had to wake up early in the morning, and coming back to finals even though we were exhausted, everyone just came together and our mentality was never on the low side, it was always ‘let’s get this done, let’s race, let’s finish.’”