St. Valentine's Day isn't about candy and sweethearts for the women's track and field team. It's about running fast. The Jumbos will head to Boston University (BU) this weekend for the Valentine Invitational, where they will be looking to qualify some relays and some individuals for the NCAA Championships taking place in the middle of March.
The 4x400 meter relay and the distance medley relay (DMR) will be the major focus this weekend for the Jumbos.
"I think for both relays, the ultimate goal is to qualify for the nationals," coach Kristen Morwick said.
To accomplish that task, the 4x400 relay will have to hit the provisional qualifying time of 4:00.20 for a banked 200 meter track like the one at BU. Tufts will send the team of senior Claudia Clarke, junior Rachel Bloom, sophomore Jillian Warner, and freshman Kaleigh Fitzpatrick to compete at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The order is, as of yet, undecided.
At last year's Valentine's Invitational, the Jumbos broke the school record by almost two seconds, running it in 3:53.94, which gave the team the fastest time in the nation. Bloom is the only returning member of that 4x400 team, which included then seniors Jess Trombly and Emily Bersin and junior Sika Henry.
"It was a little intimidating to be running against such fast Division I schools, but it is that high level of competition that pushed us to perform our best," Bloom said. "This year we are a much younger team, but I think both the DMR and the 4x4 have a lot of potential. I am excited about this upcoming meet because we are finally going to be facing the kind of competition that forces us to push ourselves."
Bloom will also run the 400 leg of the distance medley relay, which will start at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Freshman Katy O'Brien will lead off in the 1200, followed by Bloom, senior Katie Sheedy in the 800 leg, and freshman Laura Walls anchoring in the mile. The relay will have to break the provisional time of 12:23 if it hopes to move on to Illinois Wesleyan, this season's site for indoor nationals.
"The distance medley relay team is prepared to run well this weekend because we have worked very hard for the past few months and are very focused on this race," O'Brien said. "I think we are definitely capable of running a good time and hopefully by the end of the season we'll be able to qualify for nationals."
"My advice to my teammates for this weekend is to take chances and just go for it. In a relay, you do it for your teammates, not just yourself," Bloom said.
Morwick, while concerned about hitting the provisional times, has other concerns for her relay teams.
"The immediate goal is to improve on our seed times, so we get in fast heats for the championships [D-III Championships, ECACs, All-New England's]," Morwick said. "I think we'd be pleased to run under 12:10 in the distance medley relay and under 4:00 in the 4x400."
Besides the relay teams, freshman Catherine Beck will race the 5,000, sophomore Raquel Morgan will run in the 3,000, and Fitzpatrick will compete in the long jump and triple jump. All four events take place Friday evening.
"For Beck, it will be her first 5k [this season], so we're hoping to get [great competition] at BU and see if she has a shot at a national qualifying time," Morwick said.
The 3,000 is not an NCAA event, but Morwick would like to give Morgan a feel for big races. The coach's ultimate goal is for Morgan to join Beck in the 5,000 at the NCAA championships.
"This week is a tune up [in the 3,000] and a chance to run against some good competition on a fast track," Morwick said.
Both Beck and Morgan ran the 3,000 two weeks ago at Bowdoin, with Beck taking first (10:21.94) and Morgan in second (10:44.41). Last week Morgan ran her first ever indoor 5,000, finishing in 18:18.34. The provisional indoor standard in the 5,000 is 17:51. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, will need to jump 17'9" in the long and 36'8" in the triple to qualify. She hit 35'6" in the triple at Bowdoin two weeks ago and hit and 17'3" a week before that in the long.
While the team's top runners will be at Boston University, the rest of the team will compete this Saturday at the Tufts Stampede, the final regular season meet for the team and the last one held at Tufts.
"This meet is basically a fine-tuning for D-III's, a last chance qualifier, or a shot at hitting a better time so people can be in faster heats in the championship meets," Morwick said.
Freshman Anna Shih and Marisa Mann and sophomore Kate Makai will be trying for faster seed times in the 800 while senior Ayako Sawanobori and freshman Joyce Uang will do the same in the 400. Freshman Marissa Pierce will try to qualify for D-III's in the pole vault and freshman Katie Barksdale looks to qualify in either the 55 or the 200. Other athletes are preparing for the pentathlon, which consists of the shot put, the 55m hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, and the 800m.