Tufts sent nine women out to Bloomington, Illinois this weekend for the NCAA Championships at Illinois Wesleyan University. And the team made some noise, with five Jumbos earning All-American status at the most competitive meet of the season. Tufts finished 40th out of a field of 55 teams.
The 4x400 meter relay team of senior Claudia Clarke, junior Rachel Bloom, sophomore Jillian Warner, and freshman Kaleigh Fitzpatrick placed sixth out of eight teams in Saturday's final, running 3:58.76. The relay scored three points for the Jumbos, giving each runner All-American status.
In Friday's preliminary race, Tufts faced Williams College and the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse and took second in its heat, running the seventh fastest time (3:57.42) of the day and earning a berth in the finals. Clarke led off in a personal best 59.8, handing off to Bloom, who ran 57.6. Fitzpatrick ran the third leg in 58.7 and Warner anchored the relay in 1:00.3.
The team ran in the slower heat for the final with Washington University in St. Louis, Williams College, and Wheaton College. Washington University in St. Louis ran away in the finals, running 3:52.86 to take second overall in the event. For Tufts, Clarke led off with 1:00.6 and looked flustered after a lap.
"We were in the hole pretty bad. By a lap, she was way behind," coach Kristen Morwick said. "If she had pushed through, she would have been fine."
Other teams had also switched the order of their teams, putting faster runners in the opening leg to make Clarke's leg faster than normal.
Bloom took the baton and immediately caught up to the pack, running a 57.0 for her fastest 400 split of the season. The handoff between Bloom and Fitzpatrick was messy, slowing Fitzpatrick down to a 59.8. Warner then took the baton for the anchor leg, battling Wheaton senior Kathrine Wallace.
"She went out like a bandit and she was fighting with [Wallace] who was also in our heat," Clarke said of Warner. "They were going back and forth and they both wore each other out."
Warner beat out Wallace, but anchored the relay in 1:00.00, somewhat slower than normal. The team managed to take sixth by edging out Wartburg, who ran 3:58.92 in the faster heat.
While the team reached All-American status, they did not have their best day. Two weeks ago at the All-New England Championships at Boston University, the same 4x400 relay team raced to 3:55.28. This may be attributable to the flat track at Illinois Wesleyan, which can slow down times.
"It's hard in a final to look at the splits and say it wasn't good or it was. You have to look at the race," Morwick said. "That relay far exceeded expectations, I'd have to say."
Sophomore Sarah Crispin qualified for the finals on Friday in the 800, guaranteeing her All-American status. She needed to have one of the top eight times in the preliminaries to qualify and she took fifth in her heat, running 2:15.46 for the seventh fastest time in the preliminaries and her own personal best. Her heat was incredibly close, with the top six runners in the heat finishing within .7 seconds of each other.
"It was a really tight race," Crispin said. "Everyone got stepped on and everyone got elbowed. Coming around the last turn I was sort of boxed in. I just kept fighting like everyone else, and I got lucky."
Saturday's final was six seconds slower for Crispin, who took last in the eight-person field, running 2:21.39.
"I think she kind of emptied the tank on [the preliminary race]," Morwick said.
"I wasn't upset with eighth place," Crispin said. "The race didn't set up quite as well for me in the finals as it did in the trials, and I wish I'd run a better time in the finals. But honestly, with where I was a month ago, I was just so happy to be at nationals with my team."
However, the distance medley relay team was in over its head on Friday. The foursome of senior Katie Sheedy, Bloom, and freshmen Katy O'Brien and Laura Walls placed last in 12:20, running its slowest time of the season. Two weeks ago at the All-New England Championships the same team ran 11:59.80.
O'Brien led off the relay in 3:46.8 in the 1,200, which put the team in last place heading into the second leg. Bloom took the baton for the 400 leg only fifteen minutes after competing in the preliminaries for the 4x400 relay, but managed to run 59.1 to pull the relay closer.
"Bloom was awesome. She was the all-star of the meet, hands down," Morwick said. "Just having that nationals experience just really paid off."
Sheedy then ran the 800 leg in 2:19 to pull the team out of last place. The Jumbos were seventh going into Laura Walls' anchor leg in the mile. Walls, however, had a tough race, running 5:15, a full 13 seconds slower than the 5:02 she ran in the All-New England meet.
Freshman Catherine Beck also competed on Saturday in the 5,000-meter final. However, Beck did not finish her race, stopping after about a mile. Beck had felt sick on Thursday and has battled hip problems in recent weeks.
"She tried to make a few too many moves early in the race and it tired her out," Morwick said. "She got about a mile into the race and started limping."
With five All-Americans but expectations left unfulfilled, the meet was a mixed bag for the Jumbos.
"We had a good time. All of us, with the exception of [Bloom], were at Nationals for our first time," Crispin said. "So we did our best. It wasn't a perfect weekend, but I think we all learned from our experiences and had a great time."