Utah cross country is set to compete at the Pac-12 Conference Championships on Saturday.
Oct. 23, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY- Taking a week off to prepare, the University of Utah women's cross country team will head to San Clarita, Calif., on Saturday for the Pac-12 Conference Championships. The six-kilometer race will be held at the Robinson Ranch Golf Course beginning at 9:40 a.m. PT.
"Our goal is to finish in the top half of the league and improve on our eighth-place finish from a year ago," Utah head coach Kyle Kepler said. "We know that will present a great challenge, since that will require us beating one of our six teams that are ranked in the top-24 of the country."
The Utes have their work cut out for them as they will be going head-to-head with six nationally-ranked teams. Slated to compete will be fourth-ranked Stanford, fifth-ranked Arizona, sixth-ranked Washington, 21st-ranked Colorado, and 24th-ranked UCLA.
"Our league is the toughest in the country," Kepler said. "The next best league only has four ranked teams ranked in the top-30, none of which are in the top-five. This meet is difficult to prepare for because everyone is good. One lapse can cost you several spots as a team and individually."
Leading the Utes on Saturday will senior Amanda Mergaert. After finishing 10th overall at the 2011 Pac-12 Championships, Mergaert has her sights set on improving on that performance this year. During her first two races in 2012, Mergaert has finished third (Stanford Invitational) and 15th (NCAA Pre-Nationals) as well as set a personal-record time of 20:19.2. A two-time NCAA Championships qualifier in cross country, Mergaert is looking to establish herself as one of the top runners in the Pac-12.
Sophomores Susannah Hurst and Giselle Slotboom will also play pivotal roles in Utah's success on Saturday. Hurst has improved her time at every competition this season. In order for the Utes to improve on last year's performance, they will need Hurst to run well and finish among the lead pack during the race. Slotboom will also be key for Utah's success, as she has established herself in the top-three runners for the team. The 2011 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman Athlete of the Year, Slotboom has come to Utah and finished among the top-45 at every race this season.
"We will need all four of those runners [Chavez, Stringfellow, Rietz, and Kuzminsky] to have their best races of the season if we hope to improve upon last year," Kepler said. "They have practiced very well the last two weeks, so I expect they will be at their best."
Coming off a 15th-place team performance at the NCAA Pre-Nationals on October 13, the Utes are ready for the task at hand. Competing against nationally ranked teams at that meet, the team is familiar with the requirements to succeed this weekend.
"Our last two meets, especially Pre-Nationals have given us a good taste of what to expect at the start in regards to getting out and getting in the race," Kepler said. "Our 6-10 runners failed to do that at last year's Pac-12 meet and they found themselves at the back from the start. Hopefully, we learned from that and will position ourselves better earlier in the race."
"The athletes who ran at the meet last year have a better understanding of what this race is about," Kepler continued. "It will be important that they share that experience with the three newcomers. We always talk about this being a great opportunity to see where we are against the best programs in the country. We are not the ones with a target on our back, so we have to run without fear like we have nothing to lose. We have to focus on continuing to improve and aspiring to reach our goals one stride at a time."
Live results will be available at: http://championships.pac-12.com/cross-country/
The meet will be broadcast tape delayed on the Pac-12 Networks as follows:
Nov. 5 at 6:00 pm PT
Nov. 6 at 7:00 pm PT
Nov. 7 at 11:00 pm PT
Nov. 8 at 6:00 am PT
Nov. 8 at 11:00 am PT