Teammates will have to step up to fill departed seniors’ shoes

By Matt Sanchez, Staff Writer

The 2009-2010 version of the track and field team might look a little different than what fans are used to.

The team will undergo a makeover of sorts as it loses 12 seniors from last year’s squad.

Among the athletes leaving are Josefin Berg, a thrower, and Chelsea Shapard, a hurdler and sprinter. Both stood out in their respective sports.

With departures come arrivals and the team will be welcoming 10 incoming freshmen.

“We have some bright young stars coming in as freshmen,” said head coach Kyle Kepler. “They all have one thing in common in that they love to run, train and compete, and that is why we brought them in.”

Kepler said new freshmen Alyssa Johnson and Natalie Young, among others, will help the team right away their first seasons.

Johnson is a highly decorated sprinter from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and is experienced in running the 300-meter and 400-meter long sprints.

“Alyssa has a wealth of experience at the international level and we expect her to make an immediate impact on our program,” Kepler said.

Young, a Springville native, was a five-time class 4A state champion during her high school career. In high school, she competed in the 200 meter, 400 meter, 4×100 meter relay and 4×400 meter relay. As a senior, she was named the 4A Female Athlete of the Year for girl’s track and field. In addition to track, Young will also be competing for the women’s soccer team.

“Natalie is another two-sport star in the making,” Kepler said. “We expect her to step in and contribute heavily within our sprint group right away.”

This year, the team will have new leaders, and Kepler expects Sarah Grimm to be one to step in and fill this role.

Grimm, a Jordan High School alumna, will lead by example on and off the field. She and Shapard were the lone Utes to represent the team at last season’s NCAA Championships. Grimm has excelled in the hammer throw and won the event at last season’s MWC Championships.

Track and field is different from most other college sports in that it has many different events and most of them are individual events. So it’s easy to wonder where the team chemistry and bonds come from.

Kepler said chemistry happens with his athletes over time by being around each other at practice, traveling to events, doing community service or by drinking hot cocoa in the wintertime. He said his players want to motivate each other by knowing everyone’s personal bests and by rooting at meets.

The team will have much to look forward to this coming season, including the completion of a new outdoor track facility. The team has been practicing and competing at East High School as well as the Utah Olympic Oval. Getting its own facility will help with continuity, recruiting and practice.

The Utes will open their indoor season with the BYU Invitational in January and finish with the MWC Championships in Colorado Springs in February. The outdoor season will see the team travel to Stanford and Arizona State and finish up with the MWC Championships in May.

“One week we’ll be at Stanford then the next at Weber State,” Kepler said. “We like to mix it up to give our athletes different experiences and put them in spots where they will be successful.”

After finishing fifth at the MWC Championships last season, the team will look to continue building its program and as always, improve during the upcoming season.

“If we stay consistent, work to improve and stay healthy, then our players know they could be part of something special,” Kepler said. “I fully expect us to challenge for the conference championship.”

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