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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Women's Track and Field | Jumbos overcome shaky start to best competition in spring track season

Despite a shaky start for coach Kristen Morwick's runners this spring, the women's track team has since returned to its customary position at the head of the pack.

After a successful but grueling indoor season, the Jumbo team was riddled with injuries, including physical setbacks that sidelined top runners senior tri-captain Sarah Crispin and junior Katy O'Brien to start the spring.

Although the Tufts squad was not at its best, the team did not falter, as it refused to let physical limitations hamper its performance.

Anchored by junior Cat Beck, the team posted a successful showing in the first meet of the outdoor season. Taking first place in the 5000-meter run, Beck missed the NCAA automatic qualifying mark by a three-second margin with a time of 17:03. The 4x100 A team also ran an impressive time in its first race of the season, checking in at 50.01 seconds, good for third place behind two Div. I foursomes.

At the Coast Guard Invitational the following weekend, the Jumbos stunned a field of overmatched opponents. Despite not coming in with a top seed, they won seven events and tallied 201 points to secure a first-place finish at the meet.

The Jumbos continued their progress, making their presence known at UMass Lowell's Davis Invitational. The meet marked Crispin's return to action, and after a five-week hiatus, she won the 1500-meter race with a clip of 4:52.68 that qualified her for both the Div. III New England Championships and the ECAC Championships. Crispin joined Beck and junior Kaleigh Fitzpatrick, fellow members of this winter's distance medley relay team that took second place at Div. III Nationals, in combining for four of Tufts' five victories at the meet.

Crispin continued to impress, taking yet another title at the MIT Invitational, this time in the 800-meter run. O'Brien, whose injury had kept her out for nearly two months, also took the track to score in the 1500-meter, checking in at 4:47.98.

With the returns of Crispin and O'Brien, Tufts maintained high hopes heading into the NESCAC Championships, only to be eclipsed once again by the Williams Ephs. The Jumbos finished third overall, surrendering second place to a strong Middlebury team.

The team's struggles continued at the New England Div. III Championships, where NESCAC foes Williams, Bowdoin and Amherst all beat out the Jumbos, who finished sixth. Just one week later, however, Tufts was back on track, exploding for three national qualifiers and breaking a school record at Open New England Championships.

"[Open New Englands] was a great meet for us," Morwick said. "We were eighth overall, which was nice. Almost everyone that competed scored in one way or another, whether it was a relay or an open event. There were great performances on both sides. There's been a lot of improvement this season - I guess 'better late than never' is how I describe it."

Beck and Crispin once again provided highlights for the Jumbos, automatically qualifying for Nationals en route to second- and third-place finishes in the 1500-meter run with respective times of 4:31.28 and 4:31.77. The 4x100 meter relay team, consisting of Fitzpatrick, senior Jessica Mactas, and freshmen Andrea Ferri and Logan Crane, also hit the provisional qualifying standard, finishing within four tenths of a second of first-place Southern Connecticut State to capture the fourth-place slot at 48.78 seconds.

The 4x800 meter relay team had a race for the books, as Crispin, Beck, senior tri-captain Kate Makai and sophomore Jackie Ferry ran a 9:14.99 to crack the Tufts record in the event.

"The weather getting better is a really big part of it," Makai said of the team's recent improvement. "It just is better for people's bodies physically to be warm. You're able to be more relaxed and race better that way. Also, being such a long season, people's bodies start to get worn out."

"As the season goes on, you tend to get in better and better shape," Beck said. "We've gone into the outdoor season really wanting to perform at our top level. In the past it's just been so hard to get re-motivated, but we're just trying to set a new standard for the outdoor season."

Although the Jumbos will certainly miss their departed seniors next year, the impressions they have made on the younger members of the team will be long-lasting.

"This group of seniors we always knew would be hard to replace," Morwick said. "They set such a good example, having such good attitudes and working so hard. With four years of them being so solid, this class has taken our team to a new level, and it's really nice to see that everyone has much higher expectations from being around them. They left the program much better than when they came in, and I think that's the sign of a great class."

While the team may not be able to fill the void left by exceptional veterans such as Crispin, the combination of a seasoned junior class including Beck, O'Brien and Fitzpatrick and a sizeable freshman class will keep the program on its feet.

"Athletes are so unique in abilities and talents, but the junior class is exceptionally strong, and some of our best performers are juniors," Makai said. "I think they'll definitely be able to step up both leadership-wise and athletically, performance-wise."

"We're excited for the challenge," Beck said. "We're thrilled to be getting hopefully a large freshman class. I think our team will really be able to rise to the challenge in passing down the team spirit and commitment, not only to excellence in performance, but also in unity and having fun together."