One half-point made all the difference last weekend for the women's indoor track and field team. Competing at Haverford College in the Centennial Conference Indoor Championships, the squad claimed second place with 81.5 points, finishing a fraction of a point ahead of third-place finisher Dickinson College. The result was a significant improvement from the team's seventh-place mark in last year's Conference Championships and the program's best since 1998 when the Garnet took home the title.
The Garnet trailed Dickinson by eight and a half points going into the final two relay events (the 4x800 and 4x400-meter relays), a category where they had success the entire weekend. Earlier in the meet, the team of Indy Reid-Shaw '17, Katie Lin '16, Liz Tawa '15, and Sarah Nielsen '16 raced to gold in the distance medley relay with a time of 12:33.95, which was 13 seconds faster than next finisher Johns Hopkins. In the 4x200-meter relay, the foursome of Lin, Lulu Allen-Waller '17, Julia Nee '15, and Katherine Zavez '17, collected bronze, finishing in a season-best 1:50.89.
In the 4x800, Swarthmore picked up its second relay gold as Tawa, Kate Hannah '17, Reid-Shaw, and Nielsen led the pack with a time 9:47.17. Down to the last event, the Garnet needed a margin of three points over Dickinson to secure second place. Anchored by junior co-captain Nee, the team of her, Lin, Allen-Waller, Katie Jo McMenamin '16 earned silver and clinched second place overall, setting a new indoor program record with a 4:05.13 finish.
"It was absolutely exhilarating having everyone lined up around the track, yelling like crazy," explained Nee, an Honors double major in ancient history and classical studies from Duxbury, Mass. "The team huddle once it was announced we got second is probably one of my favorite moments ever. We all came together and it was only possible because of all the work we had put in through the season."
Members of the squad also had strong individual results as well, especially McMenamin, who capped off an impressive season with gold in the one mile in 5:04.33 and silver in 800 meters with a time of 2:19.38. Both of these marks meet Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) standards for qualification for the ECAC Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships. The Garnet also benefitted from a number of fourth-place finishes, including two from Nee in the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes and one from Allen-Waller in the 60-meter hurdles. In the field, reigning Centennial Women's Field Athlete of the Week and co-captain Osazenoriuwa Ebose '15 continued her success in the shot put with a silver medal, breaking her own program-best mark with a distance of 13.07 meters (42' 10.75").
The team credits its increased success not only to hard work inside of practice, but also to an increased sense of community and dedication to a common goal.
"We have emphasized a positive sense of accountability - the idea that we owe it to not only ourselves but to our teammates to give our best possible effort every day," says co-captain Emma Saarel '14, an Honors political science major from Salt Lake City, Utah, "whether that be to run a PR, finish a race despite having a bad day, or to be diligent taking care of an injury."
"This is the closest we've been during my time thus far at Swarthmore," adds Tawa, a linguistics major from Elicott City, Md., "and I think our success on the track is partly founded on the emotional and social support system that we've established for each other."
This focus has paid dividends and the future looks especially promising for the program, given the relative depth and youth of the team. In total, 11 members accumulated points and only member of the squad, Saarel, will be graduating in the spring. Furthermore, underclassmen (first-years and sophomores) accounted for 55 of the team's 81.5 points. Although the Centennial is a competitive conference with powerhouse Johns Hopkins and teams with strong cross country programs, such as Haverford and Dickinson, such success from such a young group has the team viewing its future with optimism.
"I am extremely proud of the ability of our underclassmen to step up to the plate and perform with a maturity beyond their years," says Saarel. "They are a wonderful bunch of young women and I trust in their ability to take the success they have had this past season and build upon it for the future.
More immediate, however, the team looks to translate its indoor success to the outdoor spring season and improve further upon its fifth-place finish at the 2013 Centennial Conference championships. The team will benefit from home-field advantage as the championships come to Clothier Fields and Skallerup Track in May.
The Garnet will return to action competing at the Coastal Carolina University Invitational on March 14and 15 over Spring Break.