On May 29, Utah junior Rebekah Winterton was five laps away from the finish line in the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA West Preliminaries in Fayetteville, Ark. Winterton was in the lead group and in a position to punch her ticket to the NCAA Championships before things went awry. Suddenly her feet grew heavy and her heart felt like it was about to burst from her chest. Winterton’s pace slowed and she finished a distant 31st.
“I think the humidity just got to her and her body shut down,” Utah head coach Kyle Kepler said of Winterton. “She wasn’t running a pace she couldn’t handle.”
The humidity and heat didn’t just affect Winterton. The two Ute hammer throwers, Aoife Hickey and Isle Kaaja narrowly missed on the top 12 and advancing the NCAA Championships by finishing 14th and 15th. Both Hickey and Kaaja were well short of their personal best distances, but Kaaja’s performance was good enough to finish as the highest placed freshman.
“To miss going to the meet by what? A foot?” Kepler said. “it wasn’t like they were throws they haven’t thrown all year, but the conditions were totally different than what we were used to with the humidity and heat.”
It wasn’t all sadness and frustration for the Utes over the weekend. On May 30 senior Rosalie Waller placed third in the 800-meter run and will be headed to Oregon. Waller started out slow before picking up the pace in the second 200 meters and battling it out from there. Her time of 2:04.76 was just a hair off her personal best time of 2:04.76. She might have set a new best time if it weren’t for a small stumble with 150 meters remaining.
“We feel she is primed and ready to go [for the NCAA Championships],” Kepler said. “She has as good of a shot as anybody, she just needs to execute the race plan.”
As for the rest of the team, which included Ali Eisenbeiss, Susannah Hurst, Nikkie Rudder and the injured Alyssa Johnson — who qualified for the 400-meter hurdles, but couldn’t compete — the collegiate season ended with some disappointment.
“I told them I wasn’t disappointed in them, I was disappointed for them,” Kepler said. “There just isn’t a great speech that any coach has for that type of moment. As a coach those days are just tough to take, it’s just gut wrenching … the next day you have to realize the sun still came up, it’s going to come up tomorrow, and go back to training and realize you are good enough.”