BOSTON - Facing the top competition from around the region, senior Natalie Bettez of the Tufts University women's cross country team won the all-divisions New England Championship on Saturday at Franklin Park to lead Tufts to eighth place in the team scoring.
|Bettez is the first Jumbo to win this race since 1975|
Bettez recorded the best time of all 168 runners representing Division I, II and III teams in the race. She clocked a 17:57.85 time which was four seconds better than Division I Boston College's Fian Sullivan Sweeney (18:01.87). Delia Hayes and Paige Duca, both also from BC, were third and fourth in the race with 18:04.34 and 18:05.80 times, respectively. Holy Cross junior Jenna Gasparrini rounded out the top five with an 18:05.90 mark.
She is the second Tufts runner to win the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEICAAA) race. Kathy Whitcomb from Tufts won the inaugural NEICAAA 5k for women in 1975. The Jumbos have had several top 10 performances since, but Bettez is the first Jumbo to win the race in 38 years.
According to Tufts coach Kristen Morwick, Bettez was trailing a large pack of D1 runners from BC, Northeastern, and others going into the third mile. However, when they came out of the woods with about 500 meters to go Bettez was first with about a 30-meter gap.
"We were stunned," Morwick said. "It was awesome!"
Based on her experience with this race in the past, never knowing what kind of competition there will be, Bettez didn't have any expectations going into the race. Her mindset was more about the team performance.
"I certainly did not expect to win, given that there are many Division I schools at the meet," she said. "Even during the race, the possibility of taking the lead didn't even occur to me until the last mile or so. I went in with an open mind, hoping to race my best and PR on the course. I was thinking of it as practice for later big meets. There is some good competition, so as a team we wanted to get in a good performance."
The race went out hard, and after the first mile she was in about 20th place. She let the lead pack take it out for a bit, but as the race wore on she saw an opportunity that she was able to capitalize on.
"I was worried about going out too fast, but I felt good so stayed where I was," she said. "More runners dropped back in the second mile with the big hill, and going into the last mile I was around eighth place. At that point I was feeling pretty good, but I didn't really think about taking the lead until I found that I was gaining on the lead runners. I passed the front runner with about 1,000 meters to go, and I did my best to hold the lead to the finish. We had a lot of fans come out to Franklin Park, so there was a great cheering squad coming around the finish."
This was the third race that Bettez has taken part in this fall and she has won all three.
"It is very exciting, and definitely not something I ever would have thought possible when I first started running for Tufts," she said about winning the All-New England title. "It was a great way to end my last collegiate 5K, and it's really reflective I think of the improvement we see with so many runners on the team."
Tufts scored a 222 as a team and accumulated a total time of 1:35:18.67 in the five-kilometer event for their eight-place showing out of 24 teams. Boston College collected the best score of 27 with a time of 1:30:46.65. Fellow Division III team MIT came in second place with their 1:32:28.55 and a tally of 78.
Freshman Anna Slager finished 34th with a time of 19:04.14 which was second-best on the Jumbos. Another senior Olivia Barnett came across in 61st after finishing in 19:22.91. Junior Lydia Heely came in four spots behind Barnett ending in 19:25.79. Fellow junior Nicole Kerrigan came in 67th clocking 19:27.98 as the fifth Jumbo to finish.
Placing sixth on Tufts' roster was senior Julia Noble running a 19:42.43 which led to an 84th place result. Senior Caitlin Porrazzo rounded out the Jumbo seven coming in 113th place pacing at 20:01.93.
The Jumbos also placed third in the JV five-kilometer event with a score of 99.
Tufts women's cross country's next event will be on Saturday at 11 am as they travel to the Connecticut College Invitational.