Monday, November 14, 2005

Team to make eighth appearance in NCAA Championship Race

MEDFORD -- The Tufts University Men's Cross Country team is a dynasty in the making in New England after winning their third consecutive NCAA New England championship on Saturday afternoon. Tufts dominated the race, totaling 62 points to win the title, far ahead of second-place Wesleyan's 118 points.

The Jumbos will now run in their eighth NCAA National Championship Race next Saturday (Nov. 18) in Delaware, Ohio. They will be looking to improve upon last year's sixth-place finish at Nationals, the best ever by the team. The national championship race will be run at 12 noon at the Methodist Theological School and Dornoch Golf Club.

At the regional championship, the Jumbos placed all five of their scorers in the top 20 among a field of 303 runners. Junior Joshua Kennedy (Guilford, CT/Hopkins School) was third overall to lead the Jumbos, running the eight-kilometer course in 25 minutes, 23.4 seconds. Wesleyan University's Owen Kiely won the race with a 25:01.4 time.

For Kennedy, it marked the third straight year he has finished in the top 10 and it was his best performance yet at the race. Senior co-captain Matt Lacey (Amherst, MA/Amherst) was also in the top 10, for the second straight year, at eighth overall with a time of 25:31.5.

Tufts got two tremendous performances from two of their lesser experienced athletes in junior Justin Chung (Manchester, CT/Manchester) and sophomore Chris Kantos (Apple Valley, MN/Eastview). Chung was 13th overall in 26:02.3 and Kantos took 18th in 26:10.3. Wrapping up the Tufts scoring was senior co-captain Matt Fortin (Raymond, ME/North Yarmouth Academy) in 20th place with a 26:16.4 time. He joins Kennedy as the only Jumbos to score in each of the program's three NCAA regional championships.

Though he did not score for the Jumbos, senior Neil Orfield (Burnsville, MN/Apple Valley) finished 28th overall (26:23.5) to join the five scoring runners as All-New England honorees (top 35). Senior Kyle Doran (North Attleborough, MA/Bishop Feehan) just missed with his 36th place finish with a 26:30.8 time.

"We saw some very impressive races from the team this weekend, highlighted by Justin Chung's and Chris Kantos' performances," Coach Ethan Barron said. "However, that's far from the most important experiences we take away from Saturday's race.  Everyone was very settled and relaxed. They were in complete control of those aspects within their power, and unconscious to those that they could not affect.  When we accomplish all that, we're a tough competitor for anyone in the nation.

"The true beauty of the situation lies in the fact that the training is over, the team is in the best shape of their lives, and with this weekend's performance, they've proven that they can compete with every athlete that they'll toe the line with next weekend," the NESCAC Co-Coach of the Year added.

Truth be told, the Tufts team hasn't hit that "peak" performance at the NCAA Championship race. The first year that they qualified in 1996, the Jumbos were seventh for a strong showing in their first Nationals. They then ran to finishes of 13th in 1998, ninth in 1999, 11th in 2000, 23rd in 2001, 11th in 2003 and sixth last fall. Any program would be happy to boast of making eight NCAA national championship race appearances with three top 10 finishes. However, Tufts is looking to put it all together and run to their potential at Nationals.

"It is important to realize that this team can achieve the goals that they've strove for all season by simply doing what they demonstrated they could on Saturday," Barron said. "More importantly, all seven know that they are capable of an even stronger performance at the NCAA's this weekend.  Not one has yet to fully tap into all their summer and fall training.  With each day they're finding new strength and speed.  There will be another gear next weekend that many people have yet to see these runners use."