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#7 Cross Country Headed to Stillwater for NCAA Cross Country Championships

Nov 16, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY – The seventh-ranked Utah cross country team heads to Stillwater, Okla., to compete against the nation's best at the NCAA Championships this Saturday, Nov. 19, at 8:20 a.m. (MT) on ESPNU.
DATE: Saturday, Nov. 19
WHERE: OSU Cross Country Course (Course Map)
WHEN: 8:20 a.m. (MT) / 9:20 a.m. (CT)
TICKETS: ($10)
PARTICIPANTS: #5 Alabama, #21 Arkansas, #10 BYU, #22 Cal Baptist, #11 Colorado, #12 Colorado State, #26 Florida State, #14 Georgetown, #19 Michigan, #20 Michigan State, #1 NC State, #2 New Mexico, #13 North Carolina, #6 Northern Arizona, #30 Northwestern, #4 Notre Dame, #17 Ohio State, #3 Oklahoma State, #9 Oregon, #23 Oregon State, #18 Providence, #8 Stanford, #28 Syracuse, Texas, #25 Toledo, #7 Utah, #27 Utah Valley, #16 Virginia, #15 Washington, #29 West Virginia, #23 Wisconsin
UTAH PARTICIPANTS: Keelah Barger, Karli Branch, Morgan Jensen, Ariel Keklek, Lauren Peterson, Simone Plourde, Emily Venters, Erin Vringer
Utah will have its full team at the NCAA Championships with the return of Ariel Keklak to the line up after sitting out the NCAA Regionals race. Of the eight racers, Keelah Barger, Ariel Keklak, Simone Plourde and Emily Venters are the only Utes with experience competing at the NCAA Championships.

Runner Year Finish Time
Ariel Keklak 2019 (DIII) 23rd 21:59.4
Emily Venters 2018 39th 20:35.8
Emily Venters 2017 53rd 20:22.1
Keelah Barger 2021 162nd 20:52.5
Simone Plourde 2021 -- DNF
Emily Venters 2021 -- DNF

Saturday will be the fifth time Utah has qualified as a team for the NCAA Championships and second time it's done so back-to-back years (2015-16). All five instances have come under the direction 18th year head coach Kyle Kepler, who has taken the program to new heights every year since taking over.
As a program, the best finish came in 2019 when the Women of Utah took 16th overall in Terre Haute, Ind., at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. The best individual finish for Utah came in 2017 when All-American Grayson Murphy finished eighth-overall (19:36.27) in Louisville, Ky., at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park. Murphy's time of 19:36.27 is still the fastest time among any Ute at a championship in the 6k era.

Year Team Finish Top Individual Finish Time
2021 20th Bella Williams 51st 20:07.9
2019 16th Poppy Tank 74th 21:05.8
2016 20th Grayson Murphy 53rd 20:33.3
2015 26th Hannah McInturff 104th 20:51.3

After a strong performance at the NCAA Mountain Regionals, Keelah Barger, Simone Plourde and Emily Venters were honored with USTFCCCA All-Region accolades. It marked the first time the Women of Utah had three student-athletes garner all-region honors since 2019 and fourth time overall (2015, 2016, 2019, 2022).
Venters, who was the first Ute to cross the finish line at this year's regional with a time of 20:10.8 for seventh, and collected her third-career all-region award. The Lawrence, Kan., native previously earned all-region honors during her time at Boise State in 2017 and 2018.
Plourde, who was the second Utah runner to finish, picked up the first all-region accolade of her career after posting a time of 20:17.4 for 10th. Barger also earned her first-career all-region award after finishing 17th overall at the mountain regional race with a mark of 20:35.3.
The strong performance by Utah was not just won at the front from its top runners but from the back half of its team that battled down through the finish line that allowed the Utes to grab second-place via the tiebreaker at NCAA Regionals.
Emily Venters paced the group 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 ran past seven 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).
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