In its second meet of the season at Boston University, the women's track and field team used the banked track and a faster field that included several Div. I schools to pick up a handful of fast personal times and a trio of NCAA qualifying marks at the BU Valentine Invitational.
Like the Terrier Invitational on Jan. 25-26, this non-scoring meet included dozens of schools from all over the Northeast. The tough competition from the field made it difficult for the Jumbos to crack the top 10 - or even the top 20 - in most events. Instead, they focused on improving their own scores and getting more qualifications.
Several Jumbos did just that. Senior co-captain Kaleigh Fitzpatrick, classmate Katy O'Brien and the distance medley relay team of O'Brien and freshmen Stephanie McNamara, Andrea Caruth and Amy Wilfert all hit provisional qualifying marks.
"We were just focusing on individual performances and hoping to get people running faster," coach Kristen Morwick said.
The Jumbos had the benefit of recent experience on BU's banked track and stacked competition.
"The Terrier Invitational definitely prepared us for this meet," McNamara said. "It was better having run on that track already."
McNamara was part of one of the most exciting events of the weekend: the distance medley relay. The Jumbos had to mix up the DMR relay team when Morwick decided to rest senior co-captain Cat Beck this weekend. Caruth stepped into the mix in the 400, joined by classmate Amy Wilfert in the 800, O'Brien in the mile and McNamara in the 1,200. The foursome took eighth place out of 28 teams with a time of 11:59.12, well below the provisional qualifying time of 12:22.40.
While Tufts likely will not field this particular relay team at Nationals in March, the results were encouraging given the youth of the lineup.
"[The relay team] was kind of last minute," McNamara said. "It's great we pulled off that race with three freshmen and one senior."
O'Brien also took part in the 4x400 relay, where she raced one of the fastest splits, and also in the 800-meter dash. Her time of 2:15.94 in that event earned her 20th place in a field of 141, set a new personal record by five seconds and helped her qualify for Nationals.
"Katy had an awesome day," Morwick said. "She had a huge impact on both relays."
Fitzpatrick also earned a qualification for Nationals this weekend, qualifying in 57.93 seconds, good for 18th place, in the 400-meter dash.
According to Morwick, the size of the Valentine Invitational created some logistical problems, but those problems were balanced by the chance to compete against such strong teams. For instance, sophomore Logan Crane completed the 55-meter dash in 7.41 seconds, earning a 15th-place finish out of almost 100 runners, a huge event compared to most of the Jumbos' meets.
"It is hard for the girls to judge when to warm up for a race, since there are so many other runners," Morwick said. "There were almost 200 athletes in the [200 meters], and the triple jump didn't end until 10 [p.m.]. But overall it's a good experience for them."
Other notable performances came from throwers junior Paula Dormon and senior Sarah Martin. Dormon came in 24th in the shot put (11.51 meters), and Martin's throw of 12.74 meters earned her 36th place in the weight throw.
The Jumbos have one more meet at home next week, which is their last chance to qualify for any championship meets as Morwick begins to decide who will run in which events. The individual events are mostly set, although Morwick will now sort through the different relay combinations she has tried this season to put together the best teams for the postseason.
The team is already looking ahead to the championship season, which kicks off with the New England Div. III Championships at Smith College on Feb. 23. For the past five years, the title of best Div. III team in New England has been a two-horse race between Williams and Tufts, and the Jumbos have finished second to the Ephs every year since 2002-2003. But with as strong a team as she has fielded in recent years, Morwick has high hopes for the 2007-08 edition.
"We match up with Williams pretty well this year," Morwick said. "It's going to be a great meet."