Cross Country | Cross Country teams look to hit the ground running
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 12:09
Following impressive displays last year at the Div. III National Championships in Winneconne, Wis., both the men’s and women’s cross country teams enter this season with elevated expectations.
On the women’s side, anchored by senior tri-captains Lilly Fisher and Lydia Jessup and junior tri-captain Madeleine Carey, this year’s squad is not to be taken lightly. A 5th place finish in New England and a 20th place finish at nationals garnered the Jumbos much-deserved recognition and a national ranking of 14th.
Despite the impressive early ranking, the team is by no means satisfied. And with the necessary tools at their disposal heading into the 2012 campaign, the Jumbos have their sights set high.
Tufts’ expectations aren’t without warrant. The Jumbos boast both a strong recruiting class led by first-years Audrey Gould and Olivia Beltrani, two young guns that look to make an early impact and a deep, experienced returning class. The team only graduated one runner — albeit their top competitor — Anya Price (LA ’12), from last year’s top seven.
The team’s improved overall health and fitness are also sure to provide a boost, members of the team said.
“Our returning runners are all coming back healthier and stronger than [they were] last year,” junior Laura Peterson said.
In addition, a schedule with fewer meets will undoubtedly give the Jumbos a chance for a more successful season. And while the team reads more formidably top to bottom on paper, the squads’ potential may not be realized if they fail to shed their collective underdog psyche.
“We have a bad habit of thinking of ourselves as underdogs, and it is time for us to realize our potential and become a national presence,” Carey said.
Nonetheless, the lingering success from last year’s performance, as well as the return of the nucleus of the team should do well to discourage any of the Jumbos’ inclinations to shortchange themselves.
Much like the women’s squad, the Tufts men have high expectations heading into their season with a national ranking of 7th. The men’s team also gets the benefit from returning 6 of their 7 top runners from last season.
With a top-10 finish at the 2011 nationals under their belt, the Jumbos appear to be a serious contender for the national championship, with many returning runners coming back to build on last year’s impressive results. Coach Ethan Barron also believes that the team’s depth will help the squad remain competitive and focused throughout the year.
“I expect everyone to do everything in their power to step up,” Barron said. “Our team is at its best when we have 30 runners trying to push the guy in front of them to be better. Without that, we’re complacent. Complacent teams start their winter training a week early.”
Despite the numerous preseason predictions that have pointed toward a possibly trophy-bearing encore performance, the men’s team has neither swelled with pride nor lost sight of the most vital aspect of the upcoming campaign: winning.
“We don’t need a coach’s poll to tell us what we’re capable of. We’ll be eyeing a regional championship and a high finish at nationals regardless of what the rankings say,” senior co-captain Matt Rand said. “Winning Regionals and placing in the top three to five at nationals are optimistic targets for us. If we stay healthy, I think we can get there.”
Barron echoed that sentiment.
“Rankings mean absolutely nothing to me,” he said. “There are 15 to 20 teams in the nation with the potential to finish very high at nationals. We’re one of them. Injuries, sickness and so many other variables will play a factor going forward. If I had it my way, there wouldn’t be any rankings.”
Because the first championship race of the season — the NESCAC Championships — arrive a mere six weeks after the season’s inaugural race, both the men’s and women’s teams will have to hit their stride as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, contending with the best conference in Div. III doesn’t make things any easier, although Barron is confident in his squad’s ability.
“Our goal is to reach our run our best race at the right time of year,” Barron said. “There’s no way to know how that will shake out. We’re a fit team. If we do what we can to run strong, I have a lot of faith that things will shake out in our favor.”