Men’s Cross Country | Jumbos poised for another top finish this fall
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 01:09
For the past two years, the men’s cross country team has begun the season with high expectations — and it has surpassed them both times with top-10 finishes at the Div. III NCAA Championship in November. Entering this fall ranked No. 11 in the nation, the Jumbos look to continue that trend.
Despite losing their top two runners in Matt Rand (LA ’13) and Kyle Marks (LA ’13), the Jumbos still boast a strong one-two punch in seniors Andrew Shapero and co-captain Ben Wallis. Each has a history of strong performances in big meets and is coming off a strong junior campaign.
Shapero is Tufts’ top returner from Nationals and has shown consistent year-to-year improvement. His experience and strong championship resume make him an important asset in meets often decided by mere seconds.
Meanwhile, Wallis’ junior year saw him skyrocket from solid NESCAC performer to national contender. In the fall, he placed 11th in both the NESCAC and Regional Championships, but it was his seventh-place finish in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships that earned him his first All-American award. The team expects him to carry over the momentum to the grass.
“He certainly has big goals for the season,” assistant coach Mike Schmidt said. “It is early to say what he can run at this point of the season, but I would definitely put him toward the front of the group in Nationals.”
While Shapero and Wallis will be spending time with the lead pack, the heart of the Jumbos’ potential lies between the third and 10th positions. Seniors James McCauley and Brian McLaughlin have competed at NCAAs, and co-captain Jamie Norton placed 16th at the ECAC Championships last fall. They are motivating each other, and the rest of the team, to get better.
“Our success will hinge upon how the core of our team performs as a unit,” Norton said. “We definitely bring that mentality to practice, trying to keep some tight workout groups and pull each other through.”
While there may be a handful of seniors at the top, there are also younger harriers hungry for big-meet experience. Juniors Joseph St. Pierre and Marshall Pagano were on the cusp of competing at NCAAs last year, and there is little doubt that they hope to be on that starting line come mid-November. Likewise, juniors Nick Guarnaccia and Greg Hardy and sophomore Michael Curley are expected to be contributors throughout the season.
“They all have the potential to make more of an impact than they have in years past,” Norton said of the sophomores and juniors. “We’ll be looking for them to step up in a big way.”
The Jumbos’ depth is impressive on paper, but so is that of their main competitors. Despite their high preseason ranking, they still fall behind three NESCAC foes: Bowdoin (No. 5), Bates (No. 6) and Williams (No. 8). Competing in the toughest conference in Div. III is nothing new to the Jumbos, who pulled out a three-point victory over Middlebury last year in the NESCAC Championships. Winning the program’s fifth conference title will once again be a tall order.
None of the rankings will matter on Nov. 16 at the New England Regionals, where only the top two teams earn automatic bids to NCAAs. It will once again be a dogfight for teams to advance to the most important race of the season. Last year, the Jumbos found themselves on the outside looking in, having to rely on an at-large bid following a fifth-place regional finish.
Right now, though, the team is focused on converting summer miles into strong autumn finishes.
“Our team is as fit and deep as it’s ever been,” Norton said. “A lot of guys put in some awesome work this summer and are in the best shape of their lives.”
The team’s first meet is Sept. 21 at the University of Southern Maine Invitational. Three weeks later the Jumbos have their closest meet to home, the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association Championship in Boston’s Franklin Park.