Bloomington, Ill. will be the site where the Jumbos vie for the biggest prize of the season. Nine women will represent Tufts at Illinois Wesleyan University this weekend for the Div. III NCAA Championships (Nationals), the most important meet of the season.
"It's the largest number of people for Tufts women ever," Sheedy said. "I don't think any of us expected it at all. Nothing was really set in stone at all since the only person returning was [junior Rachel Bloom]."
Bloom is the only returning member of last year's group of five runners that traveled to Nationals. This year's group includes four freshmen and two sophomores, meaning Tufts track should be good for a long time.
The 4x400 and distance medley relays will compete this evening. The 4x400 relay of senior Claudia Clarke, Bloom, sophomore Jillian Warner, and freshman Kaleigh Fitzpatrick is seeded eighth out of 10 teams competing this weekend. They will run in the second heat in the preliminaries against teams from Williams College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Entering this season, the Jumbos were returning one member, Bloom, of the 4x400 relay team that set a new school record last season and finished second at Nationals. Yet this team set the second fastest Tufts' time ever in the event and earned its' own NCAA birth. With three brand new team members, Bloom is surprised and elated to be headed back to Nationals.
"We were not expecting to run as fast as we did," Bloom said. "The whole season we've stayed positive and it's just kind of come together as the season went on. Towards the last couple meets this season we've broken it down and realized we can run faster than what we have already run, but at the beginning we never thought it was possible."
The team needs one of the top eight times in the preliminaries to move on to the finals, which take place on Saturday. The competition, however, will be very tough. "Everyone on that list is within two seconds," Bloom said. "It's going to be a very tight race. It's literally anyone's game."
The distance medley relay (DMR) of senior tri-captain Katie Sheedy, freshmen Katy O'Brien and Laura Walls, and Bloom will compete following the 4x400 relay. Tufts is seeded seventh among 10 teams. A few teams, like Wartburg and Williams, have times more than five seconds faster than Tufts.
"We just have to know that we've worked just as hard as the other teams and we're all ready to succeed," O'Brien said.
O'Brien, who will run the 1,200 leg, is one of the four freshmen who will get a taste of the national stage this weekend.
"It's really exciting," O'Brien said. "I'm glad that I'm able to get the opportunity to run with such talented people and it really rubs off on you when you see the work ethic of the people you're running with."
O'Brien will lead off and hand off to Bloom for the 400 leg. Sheedy will then take the 800 leg with Walls anchoring the relay in the mile. Bloom will have to finish the preliminaries in the 4x400 relay and run her leg of the DMR only twenty minutes later.
"She's ready for it, she's in shape, and she's tough," Sheedy said. "If anyone can do it, she can. Even under the circumstances she should do well."
Sophomore Sarah Crispin will run in the preliminaries of the 800 tonight. She is seeded eleventh in a field of fourteen. She will have to finish either in the top two of her heat or have one of the next four fastest times to advance to the final, which takes place Saturday evening.
Freshman Catherine Beck will run on Saturday evening in the 5,000. She is currently ranked thirteenth out of thirteen runners.
Sheedy is very impressed with coach Kristen Morwick's ability, having sent eight new runners to nationals this season after losing four out of her five nationals runners from last season.
"She's a very competitive person and she does everything to her best ability," Sheedy said. "She dedicates a lot of her time to coaching and looking up times and recruiting. She's always in the office trying to make this team better and I think the attitude has rubbed off on us trying to be a good team."
Even though the team is young, the girls are still confident that they can have a strong performance this weekend.
"Everyone's adrenaline will be flowing and everyone is psyched and pumped up and ready to go," Sheedy said. "If we run like we're capable of running everyone should do really well. As long as we're competitive we'll have a great weekend."