With May just around the corner, and projects and finals looming, the MIT women's track and field team peaked at the right time and won its first conference championship. The Engineers defeated Wheaton College, who won the nine previous New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championships, by a convincing 215.5-178.5 score on April 28.
Highlights of that meet included seven individual event winners, 15 All-Conference honors, two new MIT records (800m and 4x400m relay), and the fourth NCAA provisional qualifying mark of the season. Team depth showed through with the Engineers scoring points in all but three events contested.
"I am in awe of our achievement," said co-captain Kay D. Furman '07. "I couldn't believe it when it happened, even though we were strongly favored coming into the meet."
The NEWMAC victory was sweet, but after viewing impressive results from nearby conferences, the women Engineers were motivated to prove to all of New England that their win was not the result of a lack of competition. That opportunity came this past Saturday at the NCAA Division III regional meet, at Springfield College. Going into the meet, the Engineers' previous best finish was seventh place, but this year they placed second among the 28 teams.
MIT scored 85 points, behind only Williams College, a consistently successful team at the national level, which led with 168.5 points. Bowdoin College was in third at 68.33.
Co-captain Rachel M. Niehuus '07 said, "I'm so proud to be a part of this team. We've done more in two years than anyone ever thought we could."
Although track and field is often viewed as an individual sport, last weekend's success was undoubtedly a team effort. Much as at the NEWMAC meet, scoring came from nearly every event.
"I'm speechless. I'll start by saying that I think we are the most well-rounded team here, (besides, obviously, Williams). If you look at our scoring, it came from everywhere. Everyone contributed," said Head Coach Fletcher A. Brooks. Brooks also noted the contribution from a strong senior class, making up nearly a third of the post-season team.
"A lot of credit has to go to the seniors and the captains for sure, we're going to miss [them] a lot next year. Not only were their performances instrumental to our success, their desire was inexhaustible … they inspired their teammates to feel the same way," Brooks said.
The regional meet felt like a bout of déjà vu from the previous week's NEWMAC championships, where the team set new MIT school records and achieved national qualifying marks. The first record to fall was the long jump record, erased by rookie Amy R. Magnuson '10 on Friday afternoon, who leapt 17'9.75" to earn fourth place in the event. Magnuson then continued on to improve on her own school record in the 100m hurdles, clocking a blazing 14.31, at that time the second-fastest DIII time in the nation, with the winner of the race achieving the fastest time.
The 800m record, only one week old, fell again on Saturday, and again the same two runners dipped under the old mark. Andrea Staid '07 and Andrea E. Bradshaw '09, ran 2:19.20 and 2:19.51, respectively, to place sixth and seventh out of the second heat, another unexpected five points.
The last school record fell during the last event of the day, with both Staid and Bradshaw returning as members of the 4x800m relay team. They were joined by Niehuus and Adrienne M. Bolger '09 in running the day's winning time of 9:23.3.
Brooks emphasized that despite a number of strong individuals, the achievement truly came from teamwork. "The fact that we scored 15 points more than we were seeded is an indication of how strong we are. There were some outstanding performances, but I don't want to take away from what the team did as a whole. [They] all just got it done again. We just had to go out and perform and we did from beginning to end," Brooks said.
The regional meet ends the team segment of the season, although a number of individuals will continue on to try to achieve or improve upon provisional national qualifying marks. During the winter indoor season, two freshmen traveled to the NCAA DIII championship; currently four MIT athletes have either provisional or automatic marks: Magnuson (100m hurdles), Aline M. Thomas '08 (hammer throw), Leanne M. Veldhuis '08 (400m hurdles), and Maria J. Monks '10 (10,000m).