Utes take seventh place in last meet of the season

— Courtesy of Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah

The Utah women’s cross country team competed in the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. last Friday and finished in seventh place out of the 20 participating teams. The result was a pretty good place for the team, though they were hoping for a better finish.
“I felt like we had confidence going into the race,” said head coach Kyle Kepler. “It all comes down to one day — that’s the dynamic that the sport has.”
The Utes were led once again by freshman Sarah Feeny, who finished 32nd overall with a time of 22:08.79. Finishing second for the Utes and 37th overall was sophomore Jessica Sams with a time of 22:14.75. Sams showed significant improvement this year, as she went from not running in the regionals last season to finishing in the second spot for the team this year.
Senior Rebekah Winterton finished third for the team and 43rd overall, while Nikki Rietz and Shaylen Crook finished in the fourth and fifth spots for Utah respectively.
“As a whole, we were hoping for more and had bigger goals than that [finish],” Kepler said.
This was the last race for the Utes this season, as they weren’t able to finish in the top two spots to qualify for the NCAA National Championship race, a tough realization for the seniors on the team. This was the final collegiate cross-country race for seniors Winterton, Rietz and Lauren Mills.
On the other side of the eligibility scale is Feeny. Although she led the team, she had higher hopes for this race. Feeny stayed near the front of the pack for a large majority of the race, but had a tough time during the last 600 meters. Feeny was passed by a number of runners in the last stretch of the race, forcing her out of qualifying contention for the national championships.
“I just hit a wall. It was disappointing for me, individually,” Feeny said.
Her coach expressed the same feelings about Feeny’s finish but was quick to credit her for her successful freshman campaign.
“She looked fine and then all of the sudden wasn’t,” Kepler said. “She has the talent and can run with some of the best kids in the country.”
All season long, the team and Kepler have said this is one of the best, if not the best, teams Utah has ever had. There is nowhere for this team to go but up. Sams echoed this point when asked about the team’s performance at the regional championships.
“[Kepler] told us that this year was the most talented team he’s taken to a regional meet,” Sams said.
The season is over, but it is clear this program has a bright future. After making a jump in 2014, Kepler and the rest of the Utes will be looking to keep improving year in and year out.
“Overall, we definitely made some strides,” Kepler said. “We’ll have to review everything. We’ll keep all the things we did right and keep them going. We’ll continue to recruit hard.”
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