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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Cross Country: A Leader On And Off The Track

Chronicle file photo

After qualifying for the program’s first NCAA Championships in history and finishing 26th overall, the U cross country team is determined to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke.

The team has progressed significantly with the leadership of head coach Kyle Kepler, as well as one of its team captains, Jessica Sams.

“A lot of people said that it was a fluke that we made it last year,” Sams said. “We are just trying to make sure that we have that strong team dynamic again, to come back and show people that it wasn’t a fluke, that we are a really good program, and that we are definitely on the rise and starting to build a program that can hopefully make an NCAA appearance every year.”

Although the team was a little thrown off upon arriving at the NCAA meet because of the physicality of all the competitors, something they weren’t normally used to seeing, Sams believes the team gained critical experience as they prepare an attempt to become a perennial competitor at the NCAA championships.

“The hardest part for us was that since we’ve never made it to the NCAA meet, before every single meet that we had, we were having to run very gutsy to try and prove to the committee that we deserved an at-large bid, and that we were good enough to compete against these other schools,” Sams said. “We were really having to race our hearts out all season long.”

Kepler notices Sams’ dedication to being a committed leader, and he thinks it’s something she picked up from her dad.

“Her background is unique because her dad is a brigadier general in the Air Force, so I think some of that comes a little bit more natural for her, because she grew up seeing her dad in a great position of leadership,” Kepler said. “She’s one of those kids that others will follow, and she is accountable to herself and to her teammates on a daily basis.”

Not only is Sam a leader on the track, she’s a leader in the classroom.

In addition to being a captain for the U cross country team, Sams is the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). It’s something that pushes her in other areas of life, because she knows she has more to offer than just her athletic ability.

“Without doing SAAC, if I was just the cross country and track team captain it would not give me the full picture of what I am capable of doing as a leader, and I think that’s really where SAAC has helped me,” Sams said. “It has helped me see that other direction of leadership that I was missing before.”

Sams’ commitment to academics speak volumes about her overall determination, and it’s a mentality the entire team has adopted.

Kepler has proven his own dedication to emphasizing the importance of being a quality student as well as an athlete. Five months ago, Kepler’s team was selected as the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Scholar Team of the Year (3.236 GPA). This, of course, is nothing new for Kepler. In Kepler’s 11 years as head coach, the U cross country team has earned All-Academic Team honors nine times, and five times in track and field.

The cross country team always sets its goals high whether it be in school or in competition. Sams and the rest of the U squad will be returning to action for the 2016-17 season on Sept. 3, in Logan, Utah, at the Utah State Open, with Sams leading the way, Kepler is confident the team can continue to prove their doubters wrong.

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    Armen ShrikianNov 9, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Why is someone else receiving credit for an article I wrote?