Cross country prepares for the ‘biggest race of the season’ at Pac-12 Championships

cross country Justin Adams

The University of Utah cross country team prepares for its biggest race of the season this weekend as they travel to Tucson, Ariz. for the Pac-12 championships this Friday, Oct. 28. The Utes will come in as the fifth-ranked team to run in the Pac-12 finals.

“We are in a position similar to where we were at last year,” said head coach Kyle Kepler. “There are three teams ranked ahead of us in this race, just like last year. I think that our expectation is to challenge for one of the top four spots. Last year we finished the race in the fifth spot, but luckily that was enough to get us an invite to the national meet.”

The Utes are expected to face tough competition in the race, as the top two teams in the nation will be there. Colorado and Washington are ranked No. one and two, respectively. Oregon and Stanford will also be racing. They are ranked fifth and 11th respectively.

According to Kepler, he expects a hard race and tough competition in the meet.

“The Pac-12 is the best conference in the country for cross country,” Kepler said. “It isn’t unusual for there to be a lot of ranked teams in the mix. It should make for a tough and interesting meet.”

The team from the Wasatch front will be prepared as they will have nine runners in the competition. Seniors Giselle Slotboom and Dana Snell will join juniors Hannah McInturff, Grayson Murphy, Becky Sarmiento and Shaylen Crook. Freshmen Amanda Gerich, Poppy Tank and Ashley Licata will round out the team.

No. 23 UCLA and No. 25 California will also be competing. In total, that makes six other ranked teams besides Utah who will be competing.

This has been a successful season so far for the Utes, marking one of the best seasons in the program’s history. Ranking No. 17 in the latest national poll, it was the highest-ranking the women’s team has ever held. All season, Utah has either been ranked or has received ranking votes and for the last four weeks, the Utes have been in the rankings.

“I think we are in a great place as a program. We are a team on the rise and we expect great things to come in the days ahead.” Kepler said. “The team we have now is very talented. We have a great group of runners who continually improve. I think we are really prepared to make some noise not only in our region but also in the PAC-12.”

In the mountain region, Utah sits at third place, while the number one team nationally in Colorado sits atop the region.

The last time the Utes ran in a meet as big as this one, they were in the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, where they finished seventh overall against a field that boasted 17 of the top 30 teams in the nation. At that race, Murphy recorded a 20th place finish overall, while McInturff finished 35th overall.

The Pac-12 Championship is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. and any tape-delayed coverage will stream on the Pac-12 Network on Monday, Oct. 31 at 5:00 p.m.

j.walch@dailyutahchonicle.com