Utah Cross Country Finishes Fifth in NCAA Regionals


The University of Utah cross country team during the Women’s 5K run at the Utah Open in an NCAA Cross Country Meet at Sunnyside Park in Salt Lake City, UT on Friday Oct. 25, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Blake Wittwer


The University of Utah cross country team was able to take fifth at the NCAA Mountain Regionals against some of the best teams in the country. Utah was ranked seventh coming into the meet and placed in the top five behind only New Mexico, Colorado, BYU and Colorado State. With CSU being the exception, the other teams were all ranked in the top four. Utah’s finish came against not only the toughest teams in the Mountain region but in the nation.

This performance was possible thanks to two top-25 finishers for the Utes and a strong performance overall from the team. Utah totaled 146 points which rounded out the top five. The event was completed at Timpanogos Golf Course on a cold Friday morning.

Individual Performances

The Ute with the highest place finish was Bella Williams in 15th  thanks to a stellar race at the 20:42.1 mark. Keeping the pressure the entire race, Williams was able to work her way up the ranks, even passing fellow Ute Cara Woolnough in the final kilometer.

Not to be outdone, Cara Woolnough finished 23rd with a time of 20:51.6. Both Woolnough and Williams earned all All-region honors thanks to their incredible top 25 placement. This is the second time Williams has earned the award and the first for Woolnough.

Coming in third on the team, Keelah Barger finished with a 21:10.4 at 30th overall. Barger passed 14 runners down the stretch to secure the top-30 finish. Simone Plourde was not far behind in 32nd  place with a mark of 21:13.3, only a few seconds behind her teammate.

Lisha Van Onselen came in 46th after being outside of the top 80 after one kilometer. She was the final scoring runner for Utah with a time of 21.32.1.

The final two competitors on the team to cross the finish line were Morgan Jensen and Lauren Peterson. Jensen placed 66th and ran a 22:03.1 in her first NCAA Regionals Race. Peterson finished with a 23.38.2 in 107th.

Coach Kepler’s Comments

“I’m incredibly proud of this entire group,” said head coach Kyle Kepler following their performance. “We had to deal with some adversity over the past 8-9 days and they rose to the challenge in the most difficult region in the country. They never wavered, put their heads down, and got the job done. For Bella and Cara to make All-Region Team as seniors were terrific. They have both meant so much and done so much for this program. I could not be prouder of our women. They earned us another opportunity to compete on the national stage and I know they are looking forward to that.”

This is Coach Kepler’s 17th year coaching Utah Cross Country. The program has seen a recent stretch of incredible performances and has been incredibly competitive during his tenure.

Looking Ahead

The Utes will have to play the waiting game as the next tournament would be the NCAA Championships. Colorado and New Mexico have already earned automatic bids with their top finishes, but the rest of the Mountain region teams will have to wait. Based on Kepler’s comments there is certainly reason for optimism and a legitimate shot to compete nationally.

Regardless of whether or not the Utes make it this has been an incredible season for the team. Utah has been able to finish in the top five in their last six regional races. Especially after a year where there were no regional meets due to COVID-19, it was impressive the team did not break their recent run of success.

The team will find out its fate on Nov. 13 at 3 p.m. whether they are in the field for the National Championships. The NCAA will be making an announcement on their website at the specified time.


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