A sixth place finish for the No. 27 ranked the University of Utah cross country team at the Pac-12 championships this past Friday leaves room for the team to improve as it awaits regionals. With the end of the season approaching, the Utes are still progressing and hoping to peak at the right time.
“We made a step in the right direction but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I know we have more to give and it hasn’t come all together yet,” said senior Grayson Murphy. “So, I think if we can just keep working on being a team and more of a unit, that will help us.”
Murphy, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors this weekend, showed off her talent and consistency in Eugene, Oregon at the Springfield Golf Club with a fifth-place finish after clocking in a time of 19:03.8. This time gave her a top-five finish in every race she has competed in this season. Murphy credits her mental strides as the reason why she has been steady this season.
“I think mentally it [has] just been going in and knowing that I know what I need to do and I know how to do it, so just trying to replicate that mentally,” Murphy said. “It seems to come physically too.”
Stronger team chemistry helped Utah on and off the course this weekend, according to Murphy. The bond between the Utes off the course transitioned to the course in the form of tighter packs during the race.
“I think that we’ve been struggling with having some team chemistry,” Murphy said. “And I think this race it felt like we had more especially in the times outside the race.”
The tighter packs are evident in the rest of the scorers for Utah who finished in pairs. Sophomore Poppy Tank, who finished 28th with a time of 19:28.5 and sophomore Amanda Gehrich, who earned a 35th place finish after recording a time of 20:00.3, stuck together for most of the race. The last two scorers for the Utes finished less than two seconds between each other. Senior Jessica Sams finished 47th with a time of 20:12.8 and senior Louis Mercer followed in 49th with a time of 20:14.1.
In both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Utah finished in fifth place at the Pac-12 championships, making this year’s sixth-place finish possibly seem like a step backward. But, it is the point score for Utah that is the bright spot because it shows the team is improving as the season goes along.
“We gave them a great chase,” said head coach Kyle Kepler. “We were in it and the points battle was close the entire way.”
The Utes finished with 146 points, following behind California (132) and Washington (128).
“The team score aspect, we were excited about that, because that’s the lowest score we’ve ever had at this meet,” Murphy said. “In the year’s past, that would’ve gotten us fourth, so it just turned out to be a really competitive race this year, so kind of a double-edged sword. But I think overall we did feel like we’ve improved compared to the last races as a team.”
Utah will be back in action Friday, Nov. 10 in Logan, Utah for the NCAA Mountain Regional.