Cross country: Utes ready to kick off season at Utah State Open

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The Utah cross country team is competing in Logan on Saturday for the Utah State Open and hopes to start off the season on a high note.

Head coach Kyle Kepler views this meet more as a trial to see where younger runners are in comparison to other schools and so that they can get their first collegiate meet under their belts. This meet also benefits other runners who were injured last season, as well as those who trained more over the summer.

“First race of the year, anything can happen, anything usually does,” Kepler said. “Call it a rust-buster, that’s kind of how we see it.”

Caitlin Faust is one of those younger runners who will have plenty to gain today. The freshman is originally from Georgia, so she is steadily getting used to running at altitude and sees this as an opportunity to test her lungs.

Faust is confident in her aerobic strength and feels completely relaxed for the meet. She also wants to set the bar high so she can build off of this performance for the rest of the season.

“I like to take the attitude that I’ll do well,” Faust said. “I’m kind of nervous, but excited to see what I can do and see how I fit in the team.”

After being redshirted last season, Susannah Hurst is eager to get back on the track for her final year and hopes she can get a feel for the competition once again. As a senior, Hurst is not feeling any sort of pressure to lead the team because she does not want to spotlight to be on her, but on the entire team.

“It’s important for everyone to do well,” Hurst said. “We got some of the underclassmen who have had really good races in the past so we want to keep seeing them improve.”

This is something Kepler is trying to remind the team of as well. He wants them to know that while personal times and achievements are great, it is just as important for the team to perform as a collective unit.

“I just want to see us compete well and really focus on racing the other people, not racing ourselves,” Kepler said.

Kepler cannot pinpoint any one person to have an outstanding meet, but does expect there to be plenty of surprises. The team will get a good look at where it needs to be, if its training is up to par, or if it needs to make a few adjustments. It can also serve as a wake-up call to some on the team who maybe thought they were going perform better than they actually will.

The first meet is always a mystery to Kepler since everything is up in the air, but it is never a negative thing. Rather, it’s a positive experience for both the runners and the coaches.

“It’s a chance for somebody who maybe’s been under the radar to step up and prove themselves and show that they had a great summer of training and start to move up the ladder,” Kepler said.

Last year, Utah opened its season with two second-place finishes. Sophomore Sarah Feeny probably had the best summer, coming in third at the Pan-American Junior Championships, but will not be competing because she is still transitioning from her extended season.

Events will be held all day long and if they go into Utah State with the right attitude, the Utes can accomplish whatever they set their minds to.

“It’s going to come down to their mindset and their heart and how bad they want it,” Kepler said.

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@kbrenneisen