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Strong Finish Sends No. 9 Cross Country to NCAA Championships

Nov 11, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE – A strong finish by the No. 9-ranked Utah cross country team on Friday saw it take second-place and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Cross Country Championships after beating out No. 4 Northern Arizona via the tiebreaker at the NCAA Mountain Regionals held on the UNM North Golf Course.
"Incredibly proud of this group of women," head coach Kyle Kepler said postrace. "Another program first with an auto bid to the NCAA Championships. Our front three did their jobs and are All-Region honorees. Morgan and Erin ran really smart and kept moving up in the last half. Lauren and Karli also ran hard for every point. On to Stillwater."
The second-place finish is the best finish at an NCAA Regional ever in program history and bests the previous finish of third (1993, 2015). Meanwhile, it was also Utah's first time earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The victory also saw the Women of Utah beat out a trio of top-10 teams in the toughest regional in the nation (#4 NAU, #6 BYU and #8 Colorado).
Emily Venters paced the group once again with a seventh-place finish (20:10.8) while Simone Plourde moved up two spots in the final 1k to pick up a top-10 finish at 20:17.4. Keelah Barger (20:35.3), who passed seven other runners at the end to take 17th, and Plourde were critical to Utah winning the tiebreaker with them besting NAU's second and third finishers.
Morgan Jensen (20:53.9) was Utah's fourth runner to cross the finish line, checking in at 20:53.9 after jumping seven spots for 33rd. Freshman Erin Vringer (20:57.2) rounded out the list of scorers for Utah with a great kick at the end to pass 10 runners and take 36th overall – solidifying Utah's tiebreaker victory after she finished ahead of NAU's fifth runner (39th). Lauren Peterson (21:39.5) and Karli Branch (21:49.2) closed out the group of runners for Utah at the regionals and picked up extra points on their way to the finish line.

The Women of Utah have now earned a berth to the NCAA Championships five times and back-to-back years for the second time in program history. All five berths to the NCAA Championships for Utah have come with Kepler at the helm (2015, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022).
The United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will announce its All-Region award winners on Monday, Nov. 14. However, based on today's finishes the Utes will have three all-region honorees in Venters, Plourde and Barger.
Albuquerque, NM • UNM North Golf Course
Friday, November 11, 2022

Place Name Time
7th Emily Venters 20:10.8
10th Simone Plourde 20:17.4
17th Keelah Barger 20:35.3
33rd Morgan Jensen 20:53.9
36th Erin Vringer 20:57.2
69th Lauren Peterson 21:39.5
77th Karli Branch 21:49.2

With the automatic bid, the Women of Utah now head home and rest up before seeing who else joins them in Stillwater, Okla., with NCAA Men's and Women's Cross Country Selection Show airing on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m. (MT) on The top two teams from each regional earned an automatic spot at the NCAA Championships with the selection committee choosing 13 at-large teams to fill out the 31-team field. In 2021, the Mountain Region took up five of the 13 at-large spots.
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