Utah Cross Country Earns Best Ever Finish at NCAA Championships


University of Utah senior Jade Mulvey (22) 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 Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer


The University of Utah cross country team finished off their fantastic season Saturday morning, placing 12th at the NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma. This marks the highest finish at the NCAA championships in Utah program history.

It has been an incredible season for Utah cross country. The Utes won the Roy Griak Invite back in September, led by senior Emily Venters’ first overall finish. Utah also tied for first with Colorado at the Pac-12 Championships. The Utes came in second after the tiebreaker. They followed this up by finishing second at the NCAA Mountain Regionals, which is arguably the toughest region in the country this year. This was the best result Utah has ever had at an NCAA regional.

2022 marks the fifth time the Utes have qualified for the NCAA Championships, all of which have come under head coach Kyle Kepler’s leadership. Utah previously competed in the NCAA Championships in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2021, with their best finish coming in 2019 at 16th overall.

Kepler sent a lineup of eight runners to Stillwater on Saturday. The runners for the Utes were Keelah Barger, Karli Branch, Morgan Jensen, Ariel Keklak, Lauren Peterson, Simone Plourde, Erin Vringer and Venters. Keklak returned to the lineup after missing last week’s Mountain Regionals due to an illness.

Four of Utah’s runners already had previous NCAA Championships experience. Keklak finished 23rd at the 2019 NCAA Division III championships during her time at Johns Hopkins. Venters competed in the 2018 NCAA Championships at Boise State, as well as 2019 and 2021 here at Utah. Barger and Plourde both ran for the Utes in last year’s NCAA Championships as well.


Venters once again led the way for the Utes in Stillwater. She crossed the finish line with a time of 19:54.1, good for 12th overall. This marks the highest individual finish at the NCAA championships in Utah history. The previous record was Poppy Tank’s 16th overall finish in 2019. This result earned Venters her second All-American honor.

Plourde came in second for Utah and 45th overall at 20:15.7, just around 20 seconds after Venters. Barger finished 80th overall at 20:30.3. Keklak came in at 20:37.8, good for 102nd overall. This was sixteen spots better than her NCAA Championships result last year.

Vringer finished 133rd overall at 20:49.2, finishing her freshman season and first NCAA Championships race. Jensen and Peterson rounded out the lineup for the Utes. They finished at 21:07.8 and 21:24.6, respectively.

“We started 96 days ago,” Coach Kepler said. “In preseason camp, we set the team goals and they wanted to match what they did a year ago, if not exceed it. We exceeded our general performance and exceeded our conference performance, finishing second just losing the tiebreaker. We all know what we’ve seen in our regional finish, the highest finish we’ve ever had. Highest national finish we’ve ever had. I think it exceeded the expectations of ourselves. They trained well and they adapted when they needed to adapt. It’s a credit to them.”

The Utes finish their record breaking season ranked 12th in the country, previously getting as high as No. 7 in the National Coaches’ Poll.


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