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

Bhalla joins Black, relay as NCAA qualifier

Tufts sprinters will have a chance to compete at NCAAs as part of the 4x400-meter relay.

The Jumbos recorded several season­-best performances at the Tufts Last Chance Meet on March 6. The meet gave some of Tufts' top athletes an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Div. III National Championships.

One runner who thrived under the pressure was sophomore Luke O’Connor, who notched a team season best and personal record time of 8:31.13 in the 3,000-meter run. He was not the only sophomore to impress as classmate Pietro Possenti earned a team season best result, reaching 13’ 2.25” in the pole vault.

The highlight of the day for Tufts, however, came from junior Veer Bhalla. Seeking a spot in the 800 at the NCAA Championships, Bhalla needed to beat his time of 1:53.90 from last week at the All­-New England Championships. Under pressure from both the team’s expectations and his own, Bhalla succeeded in beating that time by 0.89 seconds, earning a time of 1:53.01 and jumping to seventh in the national ranking of Div. III competitors in the 800.The higher ranking means Bhalla will be competing in the NCAAs alongside classmate Mitchell Black, who is the favorite to take home the 800 title.

According to Bhalla, qualifying for Nationals lifted a weight off his shoulders, and he expected to qualify much earlier in the season. Not doing so only led to more frustration, Bhalla said.

Now, having punched his ticket to Nationals, Bhalla will have less to worry about as he focuses on resting and preparing for the competition. Nationals will take place in Salem, N.C. on March 13-14.

Joining Bhalla and Black in Winston-Salem for Nationals will be the 4x400-meter relay team of juniors Black, Francis Goins, Alex Kasemir and first­-year Andrew DiMaiti. Resting will be key for this group of five.

“The biggest thing right now is recovery and going in with a good mindset,” Bhalla said.

The home advantage may have also played a part in the Jumbos’ success. One benefit to competing at home was familiarity to the surroundings. This comfort helped make the race seem like the time trial it was meant to be.

“It’s my home turf,” Bhalla explained. “We practice there everyday.”

Having last competed on the banked track at Boston University, where additional time was added to every result, the team was also thankful to be back on the flat track in the Gantcher Center.

One surprise for the Jumbos was the immediate impact of first-year Stefan Duvivier. Duvivier recently joined the track and field team in training following the end of his basketball season. Duvivier had a wildly successful debut, reaching a team season-best height of 6’ 6” in the high jump.

Duvivier said he was delighted, but also surprised, to hear that he had beaten the season’s best high jump clearance. For him, switching sports has required him to alter his mindset.

“With basketball, I definitely enjoy the camaraderie of the team,” Duvivier said. “With track, I like how it’s an individual sport; all the pressure’s on you.”

Duvivier had a short break after his basketball season before starting to train with track. While basketball has kept him in very good shape, the transition has taken somewhat of a toll on his body. He is nevertheless optimistic about what he can achieve in his second varsity season at Tufts.

“I just want to be the best I can be," he said. "There’s no specific height [that I’m aiming for] because I don’t want to put a cap on things.”

His other track and field team members’ performances at the Last Chance Meet will provide plenty of impetus for the team going forward as it prepares for the spring season. For now, the focus is on the cohort of athletes that will be representing Tufts in North Carolina.