In what will be its biggest meet of the year thus far, the No.27 ranked University of Utah cross country team will travel to New Bend, Indiana to compete in the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational. The team is eager to show its full repertoire on Friday, Sept. 29.
“It’s going to be nice to actually race with our full squad because a lot of other teams that we have raced against have already put out all of their really good people,” said senior Hannah McInturff.
Forty-seven teams total are slotted to race. Utah will face six teams ranked in the top 30 and three teams that received votes when the latest poll was released. The Utes will face one Pac-12 opponent, No. 1 Colorado, as well as No. 26 Ohio State, No. 3 New Mexico, No. 7 North Carolina State, No. 9 Arkansas and No. 12 Notre Dame.
Baylor, Eastern Michigan and Air Force were the teams that received votes. Those are three competitors that head coach Kyle Kepler said Utah needs to be aware of when it comes to the team’s overall goal of making it back to the NCAA championships.
“While it would be amazing to beat Colorado or New Mexico, we really need to focus on a team like Baylor who is ranked second in their region because the top two in every region get automatic spots,” Kepler said. “So, if Baylor were to finish second [in their region], we would get a point from beating them at this meet.”
Kepler’s strategic approach could benefit Utah down the road when they are counting how many kolas points it has — points that are needed to qualify for the NCAA championships.
“We we’re sixth here a year ago, so if we can duplicate that or even better, I think that will be an outstanding weekend,” Kepler said. “If we finish where we are ranked right now, I wouldn’t be disappointed, but it’s going to be a battle, it’s a super fast race on a really flat course.”
The course is only five kilometers long instead of the usual six that comprises a cross country race. McInturff believes Friday will be an opportunity for the Utes to gain more experience as they will have to adapt to the length of the course. But that isn’t the only thing McInturff is looking forward to. She is ready to take on teams that they doesn’t usually go up against.
“We race against people we normally wouldn’t,” McInturff said. “So, if we are staying on the West, you’re racing against Pac-12 people, but since we are going to the Midwest, there’s a bunch of different schools and people that we usually don’t see.”
The action starts at 2 p.m. EST.