Thursday, November 20, 2003

CROSS COUNTRY RACES AT NATIONALS IN INDIANA ON SATURDAY

CUMBERLAND, Me. -- The Tufts University Men's Cross Country team won the 2003 NCAA New England Championship Race last Saturday (Nov. 15), and as a result qualified to compete in the NCAA National Championship Race this Saturday (Nov. 22) at Hanover College in Indiana.

Racing at Nationals has become a tradition for Tufts Men's Cross Country under Head Coach Connie Putnam. The Jumbos have qualified the team or individuals for every NCAA National Championship Race since 1994. This year is the sixth time the team has qualified, including four consecutive years from 1998-2001. The Jumbos were seventh overall, their best team finish, at their first national championship race in 1996.

"I would characterize this year's team as confident," said junior Nate Brigham.  "We are confident in our training, our coach, our program, and each other. Confidence is key to the mental aspect of cross-country. If you aren't confident you aren't going to race well.  The same could be said for any sport, but in distance running the mental game is magnified by the individual nature of the sport.

"We are also very focused this year," he continued. "At the beginning we set out to win NESCACs, win ECAC's, win New England Division 3s, and beat the 96 team.  One more goal to go."

In the regional race hosted by the University of Southern Maine at the Twin Brook Recreation Complex, the Jumbos accumulated 74 points to win with relative ease over second-place Keene State College's score of 98. Williams College, which finished third with 107 points, and Amherst College, which placed fourth with 145 points, also qualified for Nationals.

Brigham, a junior All-American, led the Jumbos and was the regional runner-up with a time of 25 minutes, 55 seconds. He finished 10 seconds behind race champion Ben Schmeckpeper of MIT, who won with a time of 25:45. Brigham qualified individually for Nationals last season and placed 11th overall. He and teammate Brian McNamara (Saratoga Springs, NY) ran as freshmen in the 2001 national championship race.

Also placing in the top ten for Tufts at the regional championship was freshman Josh Kennedy (Guilford, CT) in seventh place with a 26:05 time. Sophomore Kyle Doran (North Attleborough, MA) and McNamara were critical to Tufts' success by finishing back-to-back in 19th and 20th place, posting times of 26:34 and 26:35, respectively. Sophomore Matt Fortin (Raymond, ME) was the fifth and final scorer for the Jumbos, crossing the finish line in 26:47 for 26th place.

Tufts' sixth and seventh runners weren't far behind. Sophomore Neil Orfield (Burnsville, MN) was right behind Fortin in 27th place (26:50) and senior co-captain Peter Bromka was 30th in 26:57.

The team victory was the third major championship of the season for the Jumbos. They won their first New England Small College Athletic Conference title at Middlebury College on November 1. Last Saturday (Nov. 8) on their home course in Grafton, Tufts won the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship. After failing to qualify as a team for Nationals last season, and a poor performance at the national championship race in 2001, the Jumbos will go to Indiana with something to prove.

"Last year, while Nate's performance at Regionals and Nationals was inspiring, it was a huge disappointment not to make it to Nationals as a team," McNamara said. "We truly believe we are a national caliber team, and one of our goals each year is to qualify for nationals. I ran on the 2001 team that bombed at Nationals, and was injured last season and couldn't compete. Having been through that, I'm excited to be able to represent Tufts on the national scene and perform well. All the guys on the team knew we should qualify for Nationals this year, and are ready to do well there. The guys are all excited, as we have an opportunity to be the best cross-country team in the history of Tufts. I think that the last two years have made this year more satisfying, as we realized that a spot at Nationals is not a forgone conclusion. I really appreciate all the things we've accomplished this season as a result of the last two years, and I think all the other guys feel the same way."

Senior tri-captain Lauren Caputo will run for the Tufts University Women's Cross Country team at the 2003 NCAA National Championship Race after qualifying at the NCAA New England regional championship race on Saturday. Caputo finished 20th at the regional with a time of 23 minutes, five seconds and was one of nine individuals not associated with qualifying teams to earn a spot in the national championship race.