Women of Utah Captures Dellinger Invitational
SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – Ariel Keklak, Emily Venters and Simone Plourde paced the Utah cross country team to a huge victory Thursday evening at the Dellinger Invitational, beating out five ranked teams at the Pine Ridge Golf Club.
Thursday's victory was Utah's first win since shocking the country when it took the Joe Piane Invitational crown back on Oct. 4, 2019. That season culminated with the best finish in program history for the Women of Utah at the NCAA Championships.
"That's just an awesome way to start the season," head coach Kyle Kepler said. "I thought the gals came out and tried to execute our race plan and stay with their groups as best they could despite the crazy start with the short run-up to the first turn. We handled that well and handled a little bit of adversity in the front getting split up, but we found ourselves and found our groups. We didn't panic when we didn't get the positions we wanted at the start of the run and just kept moving up. And I thought about midway through we decided to kind of make our move and held it all the way to the finish."
Wow!@Utah_trackfield's women were READY to run tonight at the Bill Dellinger Invitational! The Utes, who received votes in the most recent National Coaches' Poll, are the unofficial team champions with 38 points, 55 fewer than runner-up No. 25 @CSUTrackFieldXC.
— USTFCCCA (@USTFCCCA) September 24, 2021
Venters started in the front from the get-go and led the pack by the second split. She was then joined by Cara Woolnough, Bella Williams Keelah Barger and Plourde in the top-25 as the group of Utes found their groove the deeper the race got. Keklak, who finished eighth in Utah's season-opener, put on the afterburners and moved all the way to fourth after the third split (4:12.1).
With Venters leading the pack through the fourth and final split, the newcomer crew lead by Keklak, Venters and Plourde crossed the finish line in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, for the Utes. Keklak's fourth-place finish was backed by a new PR time of 20:13.0, breaking her previous mark of 21:09.3 in the 6k. Venters, who competed for the first time since 2019, wasn't too far off her personal best pace of 19:53.9 and crossed the finish line at 20:15.5. Plourde, like Venters, made her Utah debut as well with a sixth-place finish by crushing her previous PR time of 20:17.1.
In her first cross country race since 2019, Williams clocked in at 20:22.3 for 11th while Woolnough checked in at 20:31.7 for 19th-place to secure the victory for Utah. Woolnough's mark was barely a second shy of breaking her PR (20:30.5) despite this being her first collegiate race since the NCAA Championships back in 2019 like Williams.
Barger, like many who made their debuts in the Red and White, rounded out the list of top-25 finishers with a time of 20:34.0 for 24th-overall. In just her second race as a Ute, Lisha van Onselen set a new personal best in the 6k with a mark of 20:49.4 for 35th. Furman transfer Lauren Peterson also set a new PR in her debut as a Ute, clocking in at 21:11.6.
#DellingerInvite women's race: Unattached Izzy Thornton-Bott hits the jets in the final stretch to win in 20:04.6. The @Utah_trackfield women pack it up to win the team race with 38 points ?? pic.twitter.com/TVDfvsfw2n
— RunnerSpace (@runnerspace) September 24, 2021
"Just really, really proud of these women," Kepler noted postrace. "They're such a close-knit team and they really care about and run for each other. We just basically saw what we see in practice every day out there today. Certainly, it's September and we got a couple months to go before we really hope to see what this team is all about."
The Women of Utah will get a couple weeks to train and prep for their next race, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 8, at the USU Invite.