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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Tufts wins Learfield Directors' Cup for the first time in program history

Women’s basketball coach Jill Pace, men and women’s swimming and diving coach Adam Hoyt, women’s track coach Kristen Morwick, men’s tennis coach Karl Gregor, volleyball coach Cora Thompson, Associate Director of Athletics Alexis Mastronardi and Director of Athletics John Morris wave to the fans at Fenway Park as they are recognized for winning the Director’s Cup on the field at Fenway Park on Aug. 14, 2022.

In Tufts Director of Athletics John Morris’ office, a large crystal chalice, quite literally too large for the athletics trophy case in Gantcher, sits shining on a round table. It’s adorned with a removable top and the cup itself sits on a heavy black podium. The plaque on the podium reads “Tufts University, 2021-2022 Division III All-Sports Champion.”

The Learfield Directors' Cup is awarded annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the athletics program with the most broad-based participation and success in postseason competition within its respective NCAA division. For its strong performance in the fall, winter and spring, Tufts racked up the most points out of all NCAA 438 Div. III schools, earning the first Learfield Directors' Cup in program history. Senior Associate Director of Athletics Alexis Mastronardi said the caliber of athletics at Tufts has been steadily increasing over time.

“There's an unbelievable history in Tufts athletics and Tufts has been good for hundreds of years in athletics. And recently, the success has been even more so than ever before. And I think that certain sports were good, and then it became a little bit contagious. Winning became contagious and you know, it hasn't been that long but now everybody is starting to be great. And that is really exciting to be part of.”

Swimming and Diving head coach Adam Hoyt coached the men’s and women’s swimming teams to  multiple impressive NCAA finishes last season. He said this award gives Tufts a chance to celebrate and also offers the athletics program further recognition of its success.

“There's always been a huge sense of pride in Tufts athletics,” Hoyt said. “And we've always known how great the student athletes are, how hardworking they are, how talented they are. It's just really special for the world to know. You know you win an award like this and people across the country are very aware of, wow, the entire department is that good. It's just amazing.”

Pivotal to the department's long history of success is its holistic investment in the aspects necessary to provide athletes with the resources they need to compete. Men’s lacrosse junior defender Joey Waldbaum discussed how the school works toward that goal. 

“I think it’s a testament to how the administration carries out athletics operations,” Waldbaum said. “Just a lot of investment in facilities and all the resources we have in terms of the weight room and the medical staff and all that type of stuff. I think it just shows them that all their investment has kind of paid off.”

Waldbaum was a part of the men’s lacrosse team that contributed a whopping 83 points towards the cup after its third place postseason finish. Other contributing spring sports included women’s lacrosse who earned 90 points as the runners-up in their postseason tournament,women’s rowing (64), softball (64), women’s tennis (64) and men’s tennis (83). The strong spring sport performance allowed Tufts to overcome a 203.5 point deficit after the fall and winter seasons concluded. The fall scoring did include, however, notable point contributions from volleyball (73), men’s soccer (73), field hockey (70) and women’s cross country (70.5).Winter sport success was anchored by women’s basketball (64), women’s swimming (72) and women’s track and field (70.5).Women’s basketball Head Coach Jill Pace commented on her team’s ability to contribute to Tufts’ overall success.

“I'm really proud of our team,” Pace said. “It was a really fun year and making it to the Sweet 16 was a really great experience. So we're happy to be able to contribute to that and to just be a part of a department who's kind of all striving towards a kind of excellence in terms of athletics.”

A common theme in discussions with athletes, coaches and administration alike was a sense of community. The Tufts athletics community has a strong support system which enables the smooth incorporation of new Jumbos into this family. Junior women’s rower Violet Morgan discussed how this sense of camaraderie helped her make the jump to collegiate athletics.

“I started rowing later,” Morgan said. “So it's interesting to have that jump from just having rowed two years before college and then coming to a school that has clearly such high level athletics…  The coaches make the transition really easy. And I think there's just so much support on so many different levels.”

For women’s rowing, the 2021–2022 season marked the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in recent memory. For rowing and many other sports, this past year's success continues to raise the expectations for the team’s performance going forward. Junior women’s rower Paula Hornbostel explained how last season inspired the team’s goals for this upcoming season. 

“Our final race that we had our sights set on was NIRCs, the National Invitational Regional Championship,” Hornbostel said. “Whoever does well at that gets an invitation to [the NCAA postseason tournament]. We haven't had an invitation in a while. We didn't really think that there was NCAAs in our future. So we weren't really training for that. … It sets the standard for this spring. Our new goal is to do well at NCAAs, that wasn't our goal last year.”

Volleyball senior outside hitter Jennelle Yarwood echoed Hornbostel’s sentiment that this award will only further motivate her team.

“I didn't even realize honestly that postseason play is how those points are calculated, but I think that just gives us even more fire for wanting to make it that far even further, this upcoming year,” Yarwood said.

In addition to the joy of winning, the peak performance of the athletes and investment from the coaches creates a positive working environment for the athletic administration. 

“[It’s] super fun, invigorating and it's just, you know, it's so exciting every day to come to work and be around both student athletes and coaches who are so passionate about their sport,” Mastronardi said. “Just the drive to achieve on a national level, both in the classroom and on the playing field is just there… in your face every day. It's amazing.”

To commemorate this honor, members of the Athletic Department staff were presented this past August with the Director's Cup trophy at Fenway Park. This marked the fourth time Tufts athletics had been honored at Fenway Park. In 2010, the 1950 Tufts baseball team was honored. In 2013, the softball team was invited to celebrate its first national championship, which was followed by two more national titles in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, softball returned, joined by the men’s lacrosse team and men’s track athlete Mitchell Black, after winning more national titles for the Jumbos. Mastronardi described what it was like to be honored at Fenway.

“It was an unbelievable honor. And it was a beautiful night. It was a Sox-Yankees game so it was a huge crowd. I knew that a few of us were going to go and be on the field. I had no idea they were going to introduce us and call each of our names and have us step forward. So I felt like, I don't know, I didn't really belong out there. But it was a really cool experience.”

Winning the Learfield Directors' Cup will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the future of Tufts athletics. Mastronardi reflected on how the award will continue to help Tufts attract talented athletes. 

“It is an awesome thing to celebrate,” Mastronardi said. “And then I think it also really helps the future of Tufts athletics because coaches, I know, are using it as a recruiting tool too. You know, we’re doing great things here. Come be a part of that. And I think that's part of all the coaches' talks with recruits and prospective student athletes and families. Don't you want to come join the fun here? We're doing great things both in the classroom and on the fields. Come win with us.”