Women’s track and field narrowly came in second place overall this past weekend at the New England Div. III Championships, hosted by Colby College. Coming up just half a point short behind the first place finishers and notorious track powerhouse, Williams College, this is the Jumbos’ best team finish since they won the meet in 2013.
According to junior Lia Rotti, the team’s goal was to strive for a top three finish as a team, and many of her fellow teammates stepped up to the challenge.
“We really had a lot of people who trained really hard this season [and] worked on little things to make themselves better,” Rotti said. “We had a lot of people not only placing in the top three but also placing fourth through eighth. And those are really important points to really stack up small points in order to get the big goal.”
The weekend was highlighted by three individual Jumbo titles: Junior co-captain Jaidyn Appel won the high jump with a final height of 5’6 ½” (1.69 m), senior co-captain Hannah Neilon won the 800-meter race with a time of 2:15.77 and Rotti won the triple jump with a distance of 39’3” (11.96 m).
Neilon said that Tufts had its eyes on Williams, “the powerhouse of the NESCAC” throughout the meet.
“We really just wanted to focus on getting as many points as we could as a team but mainly getting the best performances that we can as a team,” Neilon said. “We knew a lot of things were beyond our control, but the thing that we can control is how we handle ourselves.”
This was the third year in a row that Neilon won a race at the New England Div. III Championships. She won the same event in 2020, as well as the 600-meter race in 2019.
Rotti’s triple jump earned her a No. 6 national ranking and her second New England title after winning the long jump in 2020. This year, Rotti also placed third in the long jump with a distance of 17’10 ¼” (5.44 m).
Going into the weekend, Neilon said her main goal was to defend her 800-meter title and score her team points.
“I just tried to focus on how my workouts had been going really well and concentrate on all the different things that could happen — like what could happen if I lead, what could happen if I started out behind a little bit and different strategies for the different possibilities,” Neilon said.
The Jumbos proved their depth in the triple jump with four Jumbos scoring, including senior Kathryn Ezeohaplacing who took fourth and first-year Jordan Andrew who took seventh in the event.
In addition to preparing their bodies for competition through running workouts and practicing technical skills, the team emphasized mental preparation as well. The athletes did this individually, and as a team, in order to go into the weekend confident and ready to support one another.
“We really had to solidify our team as supporters, not only as individual competitors, but really grouping together to make sure that everyone felt like they were being cheered on and got enough support to motivate them in meets,” Rotti said.
On the first day of the meet, first-year Annika Kral, senior co-captain Luana Machado, junior Julia Perugini and and first-year Aoife Hernon set a new school record in the 4x200-meter relay and placed second with a time of 1:44.49. Earlier in the season, this relay group broke the school record set in 2014, and the group beat that time again this weekend.
Other notable relays for the Jumbos included the 4x400m relay, consisting of first-year Emma Smith, Machado, Hernon and Perugini. This relay placed second in the meet with a time of 3:58.07, good for No. 26 in the nation. The 4x800m relay of Antonia Knoth, senior co-captain Tara Lowensohn, first-year Carly Rinko and Neilon finished fourth in 9:34.43.
Despite coming in second place by only half a point, Rotti explained that the team really stepped up to score crucial points throughout the meet.
“It really comes down to how people are performing in the day,” said Rotti. “A lot of our people stepped up and really capitalized on the fact that other people from other schools weren’t doing as well, [which] really evened out the playing field.”
First-year Sarah Firth finished third in the pole vault on Friday night, earning the Jumbos six points with a jump of 12’4” (3.76 m). Rotti tied for fifth with a height of 11’4.5” (3.46 m).
“We’ve just had really strong freshmen come in, coupled with more vocal, dedicated leadership from captains and upperclassmen than I’ve seen in the past years,” said Appel. “I don’t really feel like our indoor season was that strongly affected by not having one last year, because I feel like everyone on this team this year is so much more motivated and dedicated than I’ve seen in the past.”
Tufts will host their National Qualifying Meet on their home track this coming Saturday before NCAAs in Winston-Salem, N.C on March 11–12. These are the last indoor meets of the season before outdoor track and field starts over spring break.