JUMBOS HOPING FOR BEST FINISH EVER AT NATIONALS

By Andrew Silver

Coming off its second straight first place finish at both the NESCAC Championship and the NCAA New England Championship, the Tufts men's cross country team now moves on to conquer the biggest beast of them all. With experience in the event under its belt, the Jumbos make the trip to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, hoping to achieve the school's best finish in history at the NCAA Div. III National Championship meet.

Over the past four years, the team has had many impressive seasons end somewhat disappointingly at Nationals. In 2001, the team finished second in the conference and fourth in New England before finishing only 23rd at Nationals. Last season, Tufts posted an 11th place result following wins in the two big races. This year, however, the team comes into the final race with runners focused on winning and with plenty of experience running at Nationals.

The Jumbos will send to Nationals on Saturday two runners who will run in the meet their third time in  senior co-captains Nate Brigham and Brian McNamara, both Second Team All-NESCAC selections this fall. First Team All-NESCAC selection Josh Kennedy, a sophomore, is making his second trip to Nationals, and Tufts also brings first timers Matt Lacey, another First Team selection, and Matt Fortin, both juniors. Brigham has had the most success in the event, having finished 11th place overall as a sophomore, a season where he qualified individually when the Jumbos missed the cut as a team. Last fall, Kennedy posted a 54th place result in the meet, while McNamara finished 106th. While the plane ride and pressure of the National meet might have served as distractions in past years, the Tufts runners are focused this fall to take care of business.

Lacey and Kennedy have emerged at the front of the pack when it has mattered most this fall, finishing first and second for the Jumbos, respectively, at both the NESCAC and New England Championships. McNamara, Brigham, and Fortin were all close behind in both meets, with the team's top five runners all finishing in the top 15 at NESCACs and top 20 at New Englands. With a veteran team of two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore making the trip to Eau Claire, the team is primed to use its post-season momentum and experience to bring unprecedented results back to Medford-Somerville.

Tufts' previous best NCAA Championship performance came in 1996, where it finished in seventh place overall. The team was able to form a somewhat tight pack, with all five runners placing in the top 80 runners and finishing within 50 seconds of one another. As has been the goal all season, the Jumbos hope to run as tightly together as possible and be among the front-runners. Ranked number five in the nation coming into the race, head coach Connie Putnam's Jumbos would not surprise anyone if they put forth a top result.

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