As students prepared for classes to begin, the Utah women’s cross country team prepared for its season by hosting fall camp in Heber City, Utah.
Head coach Kyle Kepler noted that while there were no real surprises during this year’s assembly, he was pleased with the work that the athletes put in on their own over the summer.
“The kids get away from you for the summer, and you are never in full control of [what they do],” Kepler said. “Coaches don’t like not being in full control of anything, but I am very pleased with just about everybody in terms of being obvious that they did their training and lifting while they were away.”
Kepler noted the overall strength of the athletes is greatly improved from last year.
“I feel like as a whole, we are as good as we’ve ever been,” Kepler said.
Hannah McInturff, a redshirt junior from Pocatello, Idaho, noted the importance of preparing individually before camp begins.
“It’s really important over the summer to get some base mileage,” McInturff said. “Camp is all about building endurance, and now that we are back we can do more fine tuning and more sprint work to be ready to race.”
McInturff led the Utes to a 26th place finish in last year’s National Championship, and she pointed out the importance of camp being held at the high altitude of Heber City.
“It was harder for some girls than others,” McInturff said. “You feel like you are working a little harder, and breathing harder. Then you come down here, and it is a little easier. We race at sea level, so it is a lot easier competing after training at altitude.”
Both Kepler and McInturff stressed the openness of the roster this season.
“No spot is solidified,” McInturff said. “We have a lot more depth than we have had in the past.”
The depth of the program comes despite senior Jessica Sams choosing to redshirt this season.
“She has been a leader in our program, and she is a great academic kid,” Kepler said. “She knew she would have her toughest stretch academically last spring through this fall, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to use the redshirt.”
Kepler also mentioned the ability of Sams to stay healthy throughout her career, and by utilizing the redshirt, they are able to ensure some health going into her final year.
“When you start adding up the pieces, it seemed like the right fit,” Kepler said.
Regardless of who steps into spots 1-7 this fall, the goal is the same.
“Of course we want to defend what we did last year and make it to Nationals again,” McInTurff said.
The Utes will begin the quest for Nationals on Sept. 3 at the Utah State open, pitting themselves against the best collegiate distance runners the state has to offer. In total, they will have four opportunities to race at altitude this season before the National Championship.