Team looking for leadership after injuries

By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

Last year, the Utes’ cross-country team completed what coach Kyle Kepler classified as the most successful season since moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference.

The path to a great follow-up season, however, became a bit murkier when top returning runner and Mountain West Conference First-Team selection Alyssa Abbott suffered an injury that will force Kepler to redshirt her.

“We’re going to take it slow and work her back in,” Kepler said. “She’ll train with the team and be a leader.”

One factor that Kepler considered before committing to redshirting Abbott is the youth of his squad. The team has seven freshmen and will be the youngest team Kepler has had in his tenure and possibly the youngest in Division 1 cross-country.

Kepler said this will allow the team to improve this year and form a strong nucleus for Abbott to lead next year. Forming that nucleus will be a constant task, Kepler said.

“What we lack in experience, we will make up in hard work and effort,” he said. “We’ve got to improve meet to meet, day by day and really hour by hour. Every hour’s got to be better than the last if we’re going to improve to where we want to be. With a team this young, we will have running goals and academic goals. By doing this, we can build a winning atmosphere through academics and it will fuse to running.”

The team will look to several runners to pick up the slack left by Abbott’s injury.

“We have a number of kids that could step up, including Carly Selleck, if she can stay healthy,” Kepler said. “Overall, it’s a pretty level playing field as far as our talent goes. I don’t know who will be better than everybody else. They will have to earn it. If they can get better together as a team, we’ll get better much faster.”

Kepler understands the challenges of continuing to improve after the successful 2008 season.

“It’s always tough after a good season,” he said. “We lost four good runners who were also very good academic kids. To improve on that is obviously a challenge, but I think we’ve got a good group of girls this year who are motivated and very tough.”

The team will begin its season in Logan at the Utah State Open and compete at four more events until the Mountain West Conference Championships, which will be hosted by BYU in late October.

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