The women's track team spent the entire season establishing its right to race with the best competition in the country at the NCAA Championships. But when the time finally came this weekend, the Jumbos came up short.
There were no records broken and no accolades awarded. It was a weekend that the team will want to forget, as the team failed to score and finished tied for fifty-sixth.
The 4x400 meter relay team went into the meet as the tenth and final seed, a spot it secured in the last weekend of the season. The foursome of senior tri-captain Rachel Bloom, sophomores Kaleigh Fitzpatrick and Joyce Uang, and freshman Jackie Ferry went into the meet looking to reverse the feeling of unfulfilled potential that had haunted the them throughout much of the season.
Fitzpatrick and Bloom were both members of last year's team, which took All-American honors with a sixth-place finish, but Saturday's race was a very different one.
Fitzpatrick led off in 58.6, putting the team in the lead. Ferry followed, dropping into second place at one point but pulling even for the handoff. However, the worst nightmare of any relay team came true as the baton was dropped on the exchange between Ferry and Uang. Uang had to jump off the track and grab the baton and ended up handing off to Bloom for the anchor leg in fourth.
Bloom dashed to catch Wheaton for third place. Illinois Wesleyan's anchor, senior Rachel Anderson, who had won the 400 meters earlier that day, caught the two dueling runners from last place and set up a lean at the line, where Bloom got nipped by both as the Jumbos finished in last by 0.5 seconds
The Distance Medley Relay didn't fare much better, with the team finishing last in the field of ten teams after being seeded seventh. Sophomore Katy O'Brien ran a strong first leg in the 1,200 in 3:39, handing off with the team in first place. Freshman Aubrey Wasser, who had been moved off the 4x400 relay team after falling at All-New Englands, put the team in seventh place on the 400 leg, splitting 62.4.
Sophomore Catherine Beck, who had finished the 5,000 meters just 20 minutes earlier, compounded the team's worsening situation, dropping to last place. Beck was having trouble walking without cramping up after her 5,000 and ran a 2:25 on fumes.
Crispin took the handoff for the mile leg with an opportunity to move the team up, but the former All-American never found her rhythm. Crispin ran a 5:21, well behind the 5:03.36 she ran last weekend at the Last Chance Meet at Trinity.
"I'm at a loss to figure out what happened to her and Catherine Beck," Morwick said. "Sometimes you just don't have it, I guess, and we didn't. We knew going into the DMR that we'd need a big cushion for [Beck] and we just couldn't pick her up and rise to the occasion."
Having broken two school records on the season and qualified for two individual events for Nationals, Beck was named the NCAA New England Regional Athlete of the year. But her dream season turned into a nightmarish race in the 5,000 meters on Saturday.
The race was rough from the start, with senior Julia Rudd of Wisconsin La Crosse taking the field out from the get-go and grabbing a 25-meter lead. The pack caught up, and it was Williams senior Caroline Cretti's surge with 1,200 meters to go that broke open the race. Beck covered the move, but could not stay with the lead pack and faded to 13th in 18:07.50, almost a minute slower than her seed time.
"She was in the hunt with about five laps to go and then she hit a wall," Morwick said. "She dropped back to seventh with four laps and then really struggled in her last three laps."
O'Brien's strong performance in the 1,200 leg of the DMR on Saturday made up for her lackluster performance in the 800 preliminaries on Friday. She entered the race with the fifteenth and final seed but finished seventh out of eight runners in 2:17.77, missing a chance to qualify for the finals by 2.15 seconds. The first 600 meters went out in 1:39, which is faster than normal for O'Brien.
"It just went out harder than I'm used to," O'Brien said. "If I hadn't gone out fast, than I wouldn't have been in it, but I couldn't hold onto the pace. It was a good learning experience in terms of how to run a good 800 at Nationals."
The weekend was disappointing on all fronts, and the pedestrian performances from both individuals and relays were unexpected drops from the season-long times.
"It was a tough weekend in that we have the physical ability but it just didn't come together," O'Brien said.
Morwick refused to let the poor showing dampen the season's accomplishments. During the 2005-2006 season, the Jumbos broke four school records and almost beat Williams for the Div. III New England Regional title.
"Regardless, we made it there with eight kids who had a great season," Morwick said. "Sometimes you need a little luck and we just didn't catch a break all weekend. We'll bounce back and every time you make it to Nationals, it's an achievement and a huge learning experience."