After a disappointing ending last season, including missing the NCAA Championships, the University of Utah Cross Country team is ready to get back to the level they were at in 2016 when they last competed in nationals.
Along with missing a spot at NCAA Championships, the team also lost six seniors to graduation. With the loss of the seniors comes the addition of six true freshmen to the team. These include Scarlet Dale, Sara Leonard, Brooke Manson, Grace McGlaughlin, Kennedy Powell and Sophie Ryan. The team also has the return of former missionary Sarah Feeny, who is back for the Utes this season. The team this season is lead by four seniors who, according to head coach Kyle Kepler, are going to be cornerstones for the team.
“We are going to be relying on them not only in a physical capacity but also in some leadership roles and getting those youngsters up to speed and doing things the right way and the Ute way and so we’ll count on them to do that,” Kepler said.
One of the runners who has been asked to step up in the leadership for the group of freshmen is junior Nicole Griffiths. Part of her new role as a leader is being there for the newcomers no matter what they need.
“We can really reach out to those freshmen if they ever need help with anything like that and I think a lot of us [juniors] have really stepped up in being new leaders now because we did just lose a big class of seniors. It’s been fun for us. We mostly just try to keep it fun, not too serious, but also knowing we need to get work done. Just doing it as a team together, we are really focusing on that,” Griffiths said.
Missing an NCAA berth in 2017 snapped the back-to-back appearances the team had the previous two years. According to Griffiths, the team is trying to bounce back this season by supporting one another.
“I think mostly we have to focus on the team and making sure, like we did in the first race, working in groups, and pretty much we know we aren’t going to get anywhere unless we are doing it together. Defiantly last year was hard for the team, so we just want to do the best we can and pretty much work together and not leave anyone behind,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths also says it has been a priority of the coaches this season to get the team to push each other during workouts and races.
The Utes have already tested the waters this season when they competed in their first meet in Logan, Utah on Sept. 1. Feeny finished first on the team.
According to Griffiths, after the conclusion of the race, there was excitement in the air.
“By the looks on their faces after we finished you could tell they were super excited for us and just as a team as a whole after finally watching the first race. The first race can always be a bit scary, but it definitely looks like people are excited for the season,” Griffiths said.
The team will head up north this coming weekend to compete in the College of Southern Idaho Invitational Sept. 7. The team will head out east to compete in the Battle in Beantown hosted by Boston College the weekend of Sept. 21. Heading into October the team will return to Logan to take on the Aggies again in the Steve T. Reeder Invitational the first Friday of the month. The team then heads back east to run in the Penn State National on Oct. 12.
This year’s Pac-12 Championship will be hosted by Stanford and will take place on the last Friday in October. The team will then take a short journey down to Provo to compete in the NCAA Mountain Regionals on Nov. 9. The 2018 season will conclude in Madison, WI at the NCAA Championships.