The Utah cross country team finished fourth at NCAA regionals on Friday in Logan. The victory gives the Utes enough points for an at-large bid to the NCAA National Championships in Indiana on Nov. 19.
“We are excited to earn our way back to the NCAA Championships,” said head coach Kyle Kepler said in a press release. “It’s exciting for this group. They have worked really hard for it all year, and it has been someone different leading us almost every race.”
Junior Hannah McInturff echoed her coaches sentiments.
“This is really big, because everyone said, ‘You can make it one year, but its important to go back and prove yourself,'” McInturff said. “I am the only person on the team who raced at nationals last year, and we lost five seniors, so having such a young team and to make it back to nationals is a big deal for us.”
McInturff finished 17th at regionals with teammate and fellow junior Grayson Murphy finishing right behind. McInturff finished the 6K race with a time of 20:32.5, and Murphy finished in 20:33.6. Freshman Poppy Tank finished 25th overall with a time of 20:55.1. Their performances earned Murphy, McInturff and Tank all-region honors to go along with Murphy’s second-team all-Pac 12 honors.
The Utes knew going into the regional race that an at-large bid was on the table for them, even if they were not able to overcome No. 1 Colorado for the title. According to McInturff, knowing the at-large path to nationals was in place changed the way they game planned for the race.
“Last year we made a mistake at regionals. We thought that we had to race regionals as hard as we could to make it to nationals,” McInturff said. “Racing on a Friday and then again the next Saturday does not leave much time to recover, so knowing that we had done the work earlier in the season, we knew exactly what we needed to do to qualify which was finish in the top five. I feel like we are a lot more fresh going into nationals this year than we were last year.”
For McInturff, the experience she gained last year at nationals will be a valuable asset that none of her teammates have, and she said that it will give her an edge she didn’t have last season.
“There’s no race like nationals,”McInturff said. “It’s the last race of the season, so no one is holding out for another race. Its a whole different beast of race.”
The Utes will be back in action on Saturday, Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind. The women’s race will begin at 11 a.m. ET/9:00 MT. Pac-12 rival Colorado is the heavy favorite going into the race.
“Our goal is to finish in the top 20 this year,” McInturff said. “Anywhere in the teens would be awesome. We are happy to be there, but we want to improve on where we finished last year.”