A new season begins on Saturday, Sept. 2 for the No. 20 University of Utah cross country team, which will compete in the Sagebrush Invitational at Utah State. Utah head coach Kyle Kepler said this meet won’t count for or against the Utes’ record in terms of at-large points for qualifying for the NCAA championship, but it will give the Utes who lack experience an important learning opportunity.
“These early meets allow our younger or our more developing, maybe our emerging kids that have not quite gotten to the Pac-12 level or to the NCAA level [to compete],” Kepler said. “It gives them a chance to keep developing, run some races, prove themselves early and try to earn a spot for the meets later in the year.”
Five new faces were added to the team for this upcoming season. Senior transfer Louise Mercer is one of the five. Kepler specifically pointed out that she has had solid practices early on. As of Wednesday, Aug. 30, Kepler said she might not race this weekend because the team was waiting for her to be cleared through the clearinghouse, but he expected that to happen shortly. The other four newcomers are freshmen Aubrey Argyle, Bella Williams, Cara Woolnough and Natalie Platil.
Preseason camp for the Utes was held the week before the fall semester got underway. Kepler said he felt that the team came together during that time. The new Utes seemed to fit in well especially because of the efforts of several seniors to establish a team culture and chemistry.
Utah is eager to get back to work. Kepler said that during camp the coaching staff had to “pull the reigns back” so they wouldn’t “go crazy” and “run each other over.” But despite the growing and bonding that took place over the summer, there are still bound to be obstacles to overcome.
“Every year is a different year,” Kepler said. “Last year’s team was the team that finished 20th. This year is a totally different year, and you have to start over from scratch and kind of blend it all together and see how it works. They have to learn how to run with each other again and work as a team.”
Returning Ute Trina Moreno, sophomore, is looking forward to actually running with the team this season. Last year she was forced to redshirt due to medical issues. Her hip, which previously had a stress fracture, caused a stress reaction in her shin. Now, however, Moreno said that her body “has never felt better” and that the meet on Saturday will help gauge where she is at.
Kepler said Trina has improved her strength since coming back from the injury, and he is ready to watch her compete and see how her practice translates over to her first collegiate race.
“I waited an entire year, just sitting back and watching everyone else compete,” Moreno said. “So I’m not going to waste any time or take any chances on not doing absolutely everything I can to succeed. I know what it’s like to not be able to compete, so I’m definitely going to take full advantage of it.”
Saturday’s meet is scheduled to start at 9:30 am MST.