The 2007 crross country team is young but experienced.
Aug. 14, 2007
Milestones are key when building a program, and third-year head coach Kyle Kepler is hoping that this is the benchmark season that solidifies the team's foundation.
"Our long-term goal is to put ourselves in position to be in the top three of the league," said Kepler. "And from there, that should give us the chance to win the Mountain West Conference.
"Our first two years, we definitely made strides toward our goal. But, this year could be as important as any other year in progressing toward our ultimate goal."
Without a senior on the team, the Utes return a tested group of young striders. The 2007 roster boasts 10 runners with seven returners and three newcomers. Among the returning runners are all five scorers from the 2006 MWC Championship meet.
"I like the progress our top four or five runners have made in the offseason," said Kepler.
"We're young but experienced. We haven't a senior on the team and seven of the 10 athletes on the roster have collegiate running experience. When I look at who we have up front, I see opportunities for us to have top-20 finishers and even, potentially, a top-10 runner."
While having a bevy of returners boosts the experience, Kepler notes that the key to this season is the depth. This is one of the deepest teams the Utes have had in recent years.
"With the increase in numbers, we have a deeper team than we've ever had here before," Kepler said. "And, depth is going to be our key. We know how well our top four or five runners are going to do but how are runners six through 10 going to develop and push the rest of the team? That is the biggest unknown heading into the season."
Headlining the corps of returners are sophomores Alyssa Abbott and Becky Mackelprang. Abbott paced the Utes late last season, leading the team with a 22nd-place (22:48.2) finish at the Mountain West Conference championships. Mackelprang finished (27th, 22:53.1) despite running with a foot injury.
"Alyssa was our best finisher at the conference championships last year and we'll look for her to be the leader on the team when she's on the course this year. Because she competed so late into the summer (USA Junior Track & Field Championships) Alyssa won't race until mid-September." said Kepler.
A third sophomore, Stephanie Skoreyko, will be looked upon to carry an increased role this year. She was a top-30 runner at the conference championships. Mackelprang and Skoreyko are returning to the team having completed a solid summer training program.
Four juniors will also add the experience and leadership that this team needs. Headlining this class are Chelsea DiGrazia and Lauren Endersen. DiGrazia was the teams' top runner as a freshman and battled injury all last season. Endersen fought off the injury bug early in the 2006 season to become a strong component of the team, and will be vital part of the mix this season.
"We need to get Chelsea back and on solid footing," said Kepler. "She's a great runner but the key will be her leadership. She excels in that role. Don't get me wrong, she's a great athlete but our team needs her leadership."
Newcomers Alexis Davis, Erin Fuller and Lauren Lewis will also be an integral part of the team this year. Lewis was one of the top striders in the state of California last year (finished 13th in the 3200m run at the state meet as a senior) and is a solid, consistent distance runner.
"Lauren works at this sport. She puts in her miles and takes care of herself. This should help make it a successful transition into college running circuit," stated Kepler.
Fuller was the Utah high school state runner-up at 3200m as a senior in 2006 while competing at Jordan High School. She attended Southern Virginia University for one semester before transferring back home to Utah.
"If we can get Erin back to the form she was in during her senior year in high school she could be a big factor in how far we are able to go," Kepler remarked.
Davis is a hard worker who could step in and contribute in their first year. However, Kepler notes that her focus is going to be adapting to her new surroundings and learning to train and compete at the Division I level.
The early schedule sees the Utes running at the Utah State Open (Aug. 31) in Logan, Utah, and at the BYU Autumn Classic (Sept. 8) in Provo, Utah.
"Early in the year, we're going to focus on development and make sure that we're staying healthy," said Kepler. "We're not going to key in on any results. We want to follow the training structure we have laid out so that we're ready to go at the big meets later in the season."
Following meets at Montana State (Sept. 15) and Stanford (Sept. 29), the heart of the schedule begins. It sees the Utes racing at the Chile Pepper Invite (Oct. 13) and then competing in the MWC Championships (Oct. 27).
"Brigham Young and Colorado State have put together some good teams," remarked Kepler. "TCU and Wyoming have some good runners up front and a couple others that placed well at the championships last year. "A realistic goal for us is the top five, but anything can happen. Health is the key and if we stick to our development plan, we'll finish strong and anything could happen."
The season rounds out with the NCAA Mountain Regional meet (Nov. 10) hosted by Weber State and the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. (Nov. 19).