Tufts will be represented at the women's track and field NCAA Championships. But there's one problem: the team still doesn't know which of its members will be making the Mar. 10-11 trip to the tournament at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Usually it is clear who will be awarded bids to the most exclusive meet in Div. III at this point in the season, thus allowing teams to take a week off from racing to prepare for Nationals.
However, a combination of frustrations and illnesses has the team with its back to the wall heading into today's Trinity College Last Chance Meet, held at Yale. Last year, the team sent nine members to Illinois Wesleyan for Nationals. This year's only certain representative thus far is sophomore Catherine Beck, who is qualified in the mile and the 5,000 meters.
The members of the Distance Medley Relay (DMR) are likely to go, but they don't have an automatic qualifying time and are currently sixth on the performance list.
The 4x400 meter relay, which finished sixth last season at Nationals and returns two members, is 12th on the performance list with a time of 3:58.51. Only the top 10 teams are given an invitation to St. Olaf. The team, which includes two All-Americans, planned to clock a National qualifying time last weekend at the All-New England Championships at Boston University, but faltered after freshman Aubrey Wasser fell.
"We've got to do it," senior tri-captain Rachel Bloom said. "It's not an option. My freshman year it came down to the last meet and we got there."
Bloom, who has traveled to indoor Nationals for the past three seasons in this relay, said that if the team averages 59 seconds per leg (amounting to a 3:56 total time), it should qualify.
"If you break it down it's not impossible," Bloom said. "There's wiggle room. If one person has an off day and one person picks up the slack, it's fine. We have the potential to do it. It's just a matter of getting it done."
The team will focus on keeping up with Lincoln University and SUNY Cortland. Lincoln has already qualified, but Cortland, like Tufts, is in search of a viable time.
Sophomore Joyce Uang will join the 4x400 relay this weekend in its quest for Nationals. She split 59.7 in the 400 leg of the DMR and ran the third leg of the 4x400 at the Div. III New England Regional Championships, passing Williams All-American Katie Fulton to give the Jumbos the lead in an eventual Tufts victory.
"She's a strong runner, she's a hard worker, and at Div. III's she ran a tough race," Bloom said. "She wants it, she can do it, and she's been doing great on the DMR. She can step it up and do it on the 4x400."
Besides the 4x400 relay, the Jumbos have a host of other athletes competing individually on Saturday. Junior Sarah Crispin, the school record holder in the 1,000 meters, will compete in the mile run.
Morwick believes that since Crispin will be needed in the mile for the DMR and because the 800 list for Nationals is very competitive, Crispin is better suited to try her hand at the individual mile. According to her coach, Crispin should achieve Nationals qualification with a 5:03. The junior replaced sophomore Laura Walls in the mile leg of the DMR last week at All-New Englands when Walls fell ill.
"[Crispin] has a better chance to make it in the mile, and if we need her to run the mile, it's better for her to try it again," Morwick said.
Sophomore Katy O'Brien, who runs the 1,200-meter leg of the DMR, will run the 800 this weekend. O'Brien is currently 12th in an event that took 14 runners last season. Although O'Brien has already qualified, Morwick would like to see her post a faster time to provide a bit of a cushion.
Senior tri-captain Becca Ades aims to give Beck some company in the 5,000 meters in Minnesota. She is now 21st in an event that took 15 runners last year and needs to run around 17:20 to qualify.
"I think [Ades is] up for it," Morwick said. "It should be a good race and it's not going to be crazy like last week. It should be paced better and it should be better-suited for her."
Only one field athlete will be competing for the Jumbos today. Freshman Paula Dorman can qualify provisionally for Nationals if she throws the shot put 42'01.5". She threw 40'02.25" at Div. III's and will need to throw over 43' to have a realistic shot at getting to Nationals. Though a two and a half foot improvement may seem daunting, Dorman has already added almost 10 feet to her throw this season.
The biggest complication for Morwick and the Jumbos is the DMR.
The DMR will not field its "A" team this weekend to give Beck a weekend off before Nationals and allow Crispin and O'Brien to try individual events. If the DMR qualifies for Nationals, Beck could have to run both the DMR and an individual event (her choice of the mile or the 5,000).
Additionally, both O'Brien and Crispin might need to double back and run the DMR if they both qualify in the 800 and the mile. To further complicate matters, the loss of Walls means that Morwick is allowed to bring an extra runner to Nationals to replace her.