Tufts wins the Learfield Directors’ Cup for the first time in program history

In the office of Tufts athletic director John Morris, a large crystal chalice, literally too big for Gantcher’s athletics trophy, shines on a round table. It is adorned with a removable top and the cup itself rests on a heavy black podium. The plaque on the podium reads “Tufts University, 2021-2022 Division III All-Sports Champion.”

The Learfield Directors’ Cup is awarded annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the athletics program with the widest participation and success in post-season competition within its respective NCAA division. For its strong performance in the fall, winter and spring, Tufts accumulated the most points of all NCAA 438 Div. III Schools, winning the first Learfield Directors’ Cup in program history. Senior Associate Director of Athletics Alexis Mastronardi said the caliber of athletics at Tufts has steadily increased over time.

“There’s an incredible history in Tufts athletics and Tufts has been good for hundreds of years at athletics. And recently the success has been even greater than ever. And I think some sports were good, and then it got a little contagious. Winning got contagious and you know, it hasn’t been that long but now everyone is starting to be great. And it’s really exciting to be a part of it.

Swimming and diving head coach Adam Hoyt coached the impressive men’s and women’s swim teams in the NCAA on several occasions last season. He said the award gives Tufts a chance to celebrate and also provides the athletics program with further recognition of its success.

“There’s always been a huge sense of pride in the athleticism of Tufts,” Hoyt said. “And we’ve always known how great student-athletes are, how hard they work and how talented they are. It’s really special for the world to know. You know you win an award like this and people across the country are very aware of, wow, the whole department is so good. It’s just amazing.

Central to the department’s long history of success is its holistic investment in the aspects necessary to provide athletes with the resources they need to compete. Junior men’s lacrosse defenseman Joey Waldbaum explained how the school is working to achieve this goal.

“I think it speaks to the way the administration conducts sports operations,” Waldbaum said. “Just a lot of investment in facilities and all the resources that we have in terms of weight room and medical staff and all that sort of stuff. I think it just shows them that all their investment has kind of paid off.

Waldbaum was part of the men’s lacrosse team that contributed 83 cup points after finishing third in the playoffs. Other spring sports that contributed included women’s lacrosse which earned 90 points as runners-up in their post-season tournament, women’s rowing (64), softball (64), women’s tennis (64) and men’s tennis (83). The spring’s strong athletic performance helped Tufts close a 203.5-point deficit after the fall and winter seasons ended. The fall tally, however, included notable point contributions from volleyball (73), men’s soccer (73), field hockey (70) and women’s cross country (70.5). Winter sports success is rooted in women’s basketball (64), women’s swimming (72) and women’s track and field (70.5). Women’s basketball head coach Jill Pace commented on her team’s ability to contribute to Tufts’ overall success.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Pace said. “It’s been a really fun year and going to Sweet 16 was a really great experience. So we’re happy to be able to contribute to that and to be part of a department that’s kind of striving for some kind of excellence in terms of athleticism.

A common theme in discussions with athletes, coaches and administration was the sense of community. Tufts’ athletic community has a strong support system that allows for the smooth integration of new Jumbos into this family. Junior female rower Violet Morgan shared how that sense of camaraderie helped her make the leap to collegiate athletics.

“I started rowing later,” Morgan said. “So it’s interesting to have that jump after only rowing two years before college and then coming to a school that clearly has such a level of athleticism… The coaches make the transition really easy. And I think there’s so much support on so many different levels.

For women’s rowing, the 2021-22 season marked the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in recent memory. For rowing and many other sports, the success of the past year continues to raise expectations for the team’s performance in the future. Junior women’s rower Paula Hornbostel explained how last season inspired the team’s goals for the season ahead.

“Our last race that we had in sight was the NIRC, the National Invitational Regional Championship,” said Hornbostel. “Whoever succeeds receives an invitation to [the NCAA postseason tournament]. We haven’t received an invite in a while. We didn’t really think there would be NCAAs in our future. So we didn’t really train for that. …He sets the standard for this spring. Our new goal is to do well in the NCAAs, that wasn’t our goal last year.

Senior outside volleyball forward Jennelle Yarwood echoed Hornbostel’s sentiment that this award will only further motivate her team.

“Honestly, I didn’t even realize that playoff play is how those points are calculated, but I think it gives us even more fire to want to go even further, this coming year.” said Yarwood.

In addition to the joy of winning, the peak performance of athletes and the investment of coaches create a positive working environment for sports administration.

“[It’s] super fun, invigorating and it’s just, you know, it’s so exciting every day to come to work and be around student athletes and coaches who are so passionate about their sport,” Mastronardi said. “Just the will to succeed at the national level, both in the classroom and on the playing field, is right there… in your face every day. It’s amazing.”

To commemorate this honor, Athletic Department staff members received the Director’s Cup trophy at Fenway Park last August. It was the fourth time Tufts athletics had been honored at Fenway Park. In 2010, the 1950 Tufts baseball team was honored. In 2013, the softball team was invited to celebrate its first national championship, which was followed by two more national titles in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, softball returned, joined by the men’s lacrosse team and the male athlete Mitchell Black, after winning more national titles for the Jumbos. Mastronardi described what it was like to be honored at Fenway.

“It was an incredible honour. And it was a great night. It was a Sox-Yankees game, so it was a huge crowd. I knew a few of us were going to be on the field. I didn’t had no idea they were going to introduce us and call each of our names and move us on. So I felt like, I don’t know, I didn’t really belong there. But it was an experience really cool.

Winning the Learfield Directors’ Cup will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the future of Tufts athletics. Mastronardi explained how the award will continue to help Tufts attract talented athletes.

“It’s a great thing to celebrate,” Mastronardi said. “And then I think it also really helps the future of Tufts athletics because the coaches, I know, use it as a recruiting tool as well. You know, we’re doing great things here. Come be a part of it. “And I think that’s part of every discussion coaches have with rookies and future student-athletes and their families. Don’t you want to come and have fun here? We’re doing great things both in the classroom and on the field.” Come win with us.

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