Utes Take 20th at Cross Country National Championships to Finish Season


Curtis Lin

University of Utah senior Nicole Griffiths (24) 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 October 25, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Blake Wittwer


The Runnin’ Utes closed out their season at Tallahassee Regional Park Sunday afternoon in the NCAA Championships. Coming into the meet, the team was ranked 14th overall and riding high off of a fifth-place finish at regionals. They were able to take 20th in the women’s 6K meet which is tied for the second-best finish in school history with the 2016 team who did the same. The field consisted of 31 teams with NC State taking the championship.

This was the third time the Utes have qualified for nationals in program history, which have all come under Kyle Kepler’s time as head coach.

Individual Performances

Pacing the team, Bella Williams finished in 51st with a time of 20:07.9. This was her best finish at the NCAA Championships and it came in her senior year.

Finishing in second, Cara Woolnough finished in 86th with a mark of 20:25.3 which was a PR for her. This was Woolnough’s best finish in the NCAA Championships.

In third for the team, Ariel Keklak jumped a remarkable 41 runners in the last kilometer to finish 118th at 20:37.0. This was Keklak’s first D1 NCAA Championship meet.

Keelah Barger and Lisha Van Onselen filled out the last two spots on the team coming in at 162nd and 182nd. Barger ran a 20:52.5 and Van Onselen finished with a mark of 20:59.9. This is the first NCAA Championships for both.

Coach Kepler’s Comments

“We went for it and while it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, I’m still incredibly proud of this team and everything they accomplished this season,” Kepler told reporters after the meet. “Four of our five scoring runners ran faster than they ran here in October. On a tough day, we still finished as a top 20 team in the country. That speaks to the depth and talent of this group of women. They have so much to be proud of.”

Crossing the finish line

In closing, this group had a remarkable season breaking multiple program records and setting the bar exceptionally high for the future. The mountain region is exceptionally tough with three of the top four ranked teams in the country being from the area. Considering the competition, being a top-20 team in the country is certainly nothing to scoff at.

The Utes certainly have a bright future ahead and expectations will be sky-high coming into next season. This team has a ton of young talent and it’s hard to envision them regressing in any manner. Truly this has been one of the best seasons in program history. Who knows what is in store for the future of this team.


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