Cross country teams overcome ‘Green Monster’ through preparation, team camaraderie

Tufts first-year Haley Nilsson finished in third place with a time of 21:00.7. Courtesy Katie O'Grady

In a strong start to the season on Saturday at the Trinity Invitational in Manchester, Conn., the Tufts men’s and women’s cross country teams dominated both of their respective 5K races. A total of seven schools brought their men’s and women’s teams to the meet — the Tufts men finished first and the Tufts women took second place behind Wesleyan.

Sophomore Walter Wagude, who led the Jumbos by winning the men’s event with a time of 16:21.2 and claimed a personal record in the process, received NESCAC Performer of the Week honors for the race. He attributed his success to something more than just his and his team’s hard work.

“I had a lot of people shouting my name, and saying ‘Go,’ and that gave me the adrenaline to continue pushing, so I feel like that made a big difference,” Wagude said.

While this would have been routine in a normal year, Saturday’s meet marks the first time in nearly two years that the Jumbos have had a cross country meet with a cheering section, and the individual and team results of both the men’s and women’s runners showed that they did indeed feed off of this energy.

Fourteen Jumbos cracked the top 25 in the men’s 5K and seven did the same in the women’s 5K.

First-year Haley Nilsson, who ran in her first collegiate race on Saturday, led the Jumbos by taking third place in the women’s race with a time of 21:00.7.

“It definitely felt almost like a new experience just because of how long it’s been since I personally have had any bigger races,” Nilsson said. “It was awesome to get back out there again and just to be with my team and be in a real race competition environment.”

The waning stages of the pandemic have also allowed both the men’s and women’s teams to build a camaraderie that they did not have as much of last year. Wagude noted the stark difference between his first year and sophomore year.

“Last season, I remember with COVID-19 we were not allowed to come up for the preseason and have any physical activities,” Wagude reflected. “Before preseason [this year], we met up as a team. Then, we went for a camp, and during the camp, we did some workouts and got to catch up as teammates. By the time the season started, I felt like we were ready to go into the season.”

This level of preparation along with the camaraderie they built allowed the Jumbos to put their best foot forward at an extremely tough course on Saturday. Specifically, this course consisted of a steep and long hill colloquially known as the “Green Monster” that appeared at the end of the second mile and is known for breaking even the best of runners. The Jumbos, however, showed what they were made of despite the monster-like conditions.

“That’s not an easy location or easy circumstances for your first race, or anyone’s first race of the season for that matter,” Nilsson said. “Everyone did such an awesome job and was super tough and it showed a lot of mental toughness and [physical] toughness as well.”

With the Jumbos’ early success, confidence is a theme they will take with them going into the next meet.

“I learned that we should continue believing in ourselves, because there’s no reason to doubt our potential after what we did,” Wagude said.

At the same time, both teams recognize how important the team dynamic will continue to be. 

“I cannot stress how important it is that we all get along and that we all thrive off each other’s energy, and my goal is to continue and improve upon that,” Nilsson said. 

Both the men’s and women’s teams will travel to New Gloucester, Maine on Saturday to compete in the Bates Invitational.