It was snowing during the Montana State Invitational, but that didn’t matter to the University of Utah cross country team when it crossed the finish line with 42 points, tying for first place with host Montana State this past weekend. Leading the way for Utah was Amanda Gehrich who finished second with a time of 17:19.39. She was followed by two other top 10 Utah finishes from Poppy Tank, who placed No. 5 and Hannah McInturff, who earned a No. 9 place finish. The rest of the top five scorers for Utah came from a 12th place finish by Jessica Sams and a 14th place finish by Aubrey Argyle.
Behind Utah and Montana State was Idaho State winning third, Montana in fourth, Northern Colorado in fifth and North Dakota in sixth. For the first-place Utes, it was Gehrich who helped execute Utah’s game plan, despite never running in the snow before.
“It was pretty cold, it was so cold, it was snowing and I had never raced in the snow before, so that was definitely an interesting experience,” Gehirch said. “But we made it through, it was pretty gritty, but we made it through.”
Head coach Kyle Kepler reiterated the team’s toughness in fighting through the weather and how it didn’t slow Utah down.
“Our kids handled it great, I have no issues with that,” Kepler said. “It was a little slick in the first as they were running up and down some hills, but the bottom and last two thirds of the course were incredibly flat and the water drained really well with the snow and rain that had gotten on it the night and day before.”
The weather didn’t cause Kepler to make any alterations to the Utes’ game plan. The strategy was to come out conservatively, then settle into the race before finishing out strong. The slower start helped the Utes feel out the weather and the course, as they stayed in a tight pack for the first two kilometers.
“The goal is to stay together and work together because usually teams that race together place really high,” Gehrich said. “So we are trying to get the gap between 1st place and 5th place down to like 30 seconds.”
From Gehrich to Argyle, there was a gap of 33.44 seconds, so Utah is right on track with its goal. Not only did Kepler see many positive things in his team’s race this weekend, but he also found multiple areas that need improvement as his team moves forward.
“We held our groups pretty well,” Kepler said. “But I think in the middle of the race in a few instances, we didn’t compete as well as we needed to, and we weren’t as aggressive as we would’ve liked to have been at that point.”
It is early in the season, so the Utes do not necessarily need to be peaking quite yet, but they will continue to prepare and attack each coming race in order to build to that peaking point.
“I didn’t really think our sprint to the end was all that great, and nobody’s probably is at this time of the year,” Kepler said. “Nobody’s really focused on anything super speedy yet, or at least in most instances, particularly us, but we will definitely have to be ready for a race that will go out significantly faster.”
Utah’s next meet is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 29 in South Bend, Indiana at the Notre Dame Invitational.