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Utah qualified for the 2021 NCAA Cross County Championship

The Team

Emily Venters

Emily Venters

Cross Country 2021 Season Review

Utah was the runner-up at the Pac-12 Championships—the best performance as a league member. The Utes also placed fifth at the NCAA Regionals and 20th at the NCAA Championships. Utah climbed as high as No. 7 in the national rankings, which is the second-best in program history behind No. 6 in 2019.

At Pac-12’s, all five scoring runners posted top-16 finishes for 67 points. Emily Venters placed third for the best individual finish in program history at the Pac-12 Championships, edging out Grayson Murphy’s fifth-place effort in 2017). Cara Woolnough placed seventh to earn first team All-Pac-12 honors and Simone Plourde finished 11th.

Head coach Kyle Kepler has now led Utah to a top-five finish in five of the last six regional races – not including the 2020 season, which did not see a regional meet run due to COVID-19. Bella Williams placed 15th and Cara Woolnough was 23rd as they both earned All-Region honors. It was the second All-Region honor for Williams.

The Utes’ 20th-place performance at nationals tied with the 2016 squad for the second-best finish in program history. Williams paced the Utes at the national meet by finishing in 51st while Woolnough was 86th.

Poppy Tank

Poppy Tank

Track & Field 2021 Season Review

Senior Poppy Tank had one of the best seasons in Utah cross country/track & field history in 2021. She earned a pair of All-America honors in cross country and the 10,000m in outdoor track & field, and was an honorable mention All-American in the 5,000m at track & field nationals. Tank finished fifth in the 5,000m at the Pac-12 Championships and also earned First-Team All-Pac-12 honors in cross country.

Tank broke her own 10K school record to place ninth at the NCAA Championships and ran the second-fastest time in the 5K at Utah. She is just the second runner in school history to compete in multiple events at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Utah sent 10 student-athletes to the NCAA West Regionals and compete in the 800m, 5000m, 10000m and 4x400m relays. It was also the first time Utah’s 4x400m relay team qualified for the West Regionals since the 2009 outdoor season.

Whitney Hessler, Sarah Newton and Brooke Manson qualified for NCAA Regionals in the 800 meters. Newton advanced to her third-straight NCAA West Regionals. Manson qualified for her second-straight 800 meter quarterfinals in 2021.

At the Pac-12 Championships, the 4x100m crew of Donna Ntambue, Kelise Davis, Maya LeBar and Taylor Watson clocked in at 46.93. The 4x400m team of Davis, Brooklyn James, Hessler and Manson checked in at 3:46.06. Both teams scored for the Utes. Utah’s other 4x400m squad of Davis, Lauren O'Banion, James and Jackie Martin was ranked 46th in the nation with a time of 3:40.16 – which was the second-fastest time in program history.

Morgan Jensen crushed her previous 5,000m personal best at Pac-12’s with a time of 16:56.53. Karli Branch recorded a mark of 17:40.05 while Sara Leonard followed right behind her at 17:50.66. The Utes also recorded some other lifetime best marks by Jasie York in the 800m prelims and Ruby Jane Mathewson in the 400m hurdles.

Competing in her first conference championship meet, Davis recorded a time of 56.70 in the 400m dash. Ntambue also raced in her first conference championship meet with the dual-sport athlete just missing her PR of 11.99 in the 100m dash with a time of 12.06. Sophie Ryan won the 3,000m at the USC Trojan Invitational and was a member of the Distance Medley Relay squad that took eighth at the Drake Relays.

Head Coach


Kyle Kepler is in his 17th year as the head coach of the Utah women's cross country and track & field programs. Kepler's organization and attention to detail have allowed him to develop a solid foundation and create a competitive program that has steadily improved each year.

Kepler has coached seven athletes to All-America honors at Utah. Amanda Mergaert was a five-time All-American, with her career culminating in first-team honors in 2013 in the indoor mile and the outdoor 1,500 to go with her cross country honors in 2012. Grayson Murphy was also a five-time All-American, including two first-team All-America honors in the 3,000 steeplechase, two second-team All-America honors in the indoor 5,000 and a 2017 cross country All-America distinction. Langley Iverson (2011, indoor high jump), Brianna LeRoy (2012, outdoor high jump), and Rosalie Waller (2014, outdoor 800) have also earned All-America honors at Utah under Kepler.

Most recently, Sarah Feeny earned All-America honors in the indoor mile. She was a first-team honoree finishing eighth overall at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Championships. Poppy Tank garnered All-America honors in cross country and in the outdoor 10K – both were first time honors for the Plymouth, Devon, England native.

In cross country, Utah has qualified for the NCAA Championships as a team four times since 2015, accounting for all four appearances in the program’s history. Most recently, Utah placed 20th at the 2021 national meet. That same squad was the Pac-12 runner-up and climbed as high as No. 7 in the national rankings. The Utes earned their highest finish of 16th in 2019, while coming in 20th in 2016 and 26th in 2015.

Utah made its national presence known at the Joe Piane Invite this past season, going head-to-head with some of the nation's best teams and came out victorious in a tight race against top-ranked Colorado. Following that inspiring performance, The Utes earned their highest national ranking in 2019 at No. 6 after winning the prestigious Joe Piane Invitational. Kepler has led Utah to a top-five finish in five of the last six regional races, including fifth in 2021. The Utes best regional finish was third in 2015.

He’s also had athletes qualify individually for the NCAA cross country championship seven times. Murphy’s eighth-place finish at the 2017 championships is the best finish for a Utah runner. Mergaert was a three-time cross country NCAA qualifier in addition to Tank’s berth in 2021. The Utes have had 15 runners combine for 22 all-region honors while nine runners have earned 12 All-Pac-12 accolades.

In track & field, the Utes have had 58 athletes post 103 NCAA Outdoor preliminary qualifying marks, and sent 11 athletes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Mergaert (2011-13, 1,500) and Chelsea Shapard (2007-09, 400 hurdles) were both three-time NCAA attendees. Mergaert finished third in the 1,500 at NCAA's as a senior in 2013. She was the 2011 USTFCCCA Mountain Region Women's Track Athlete of the Year. Tank, who qualified for both the 5k and 10k at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2021, became just the second Ute to compete in both distance races at the championships besides Jill Molen (1982).

The Utes have also sent three athletes to the NCAA Indoor Championships under Kepler, including Murphy twice in the 5,000 (2017-18). Mergaert (2012, mile) and Rebekah Winterton (2014, 5,000) have both won Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor track championships. Utah has set 18 outdoor and 15 indoor school records since 2006.

During Utah's six years in the Mountain West Conference under Kepler, Utah student-athletes won nine outdoor conference titles and two indoor titles. Shapard was a three-time 400 hurdles outdoor champion. Utah earned 23 outdoor and 20 indoor All-MWC honors.

Kepler is in his 23rd year coaching at the NCAA Division I level. Prior to coming to Utah, Kepler served as Northern Iowa's head men's and women's cross country coach and assistant track and field coach for two seasons. He was on staff at UNI for a total of seven years, serving as an assistant cross country coach for five years prior to being named head coach in 2003.

Kepler competed at Northern Iowa, taking part in both cross country and track and field for the Panthers and serving as a team captain during the 1997-98 school year. Kepler was a member of five MVC championship teams. He earned all-conference honors nine times during his collegiate career, was a two-time all-region cross country selection and a six-time Academic All-MVC honoree.

Kepler earned his master's degree in physical education in 2004 and graduated with a bachelor's in secondary education (geography) in 1998 from UNI.

Kepler is married to Hannah Vickery and they have two daughters, Cora and Arielle.


Rebecca Rhodes

Assistant Coach

Rebecca Rhodes is in her first season at Utah. Rhodes competed in track & field student-athlete at Oregon from 2008-12 before joining the coaching ranks immediately afterwards.

Rhodes spent the previous four seasons (2017-21) at Eastern Oregon, where she served as an assistant track & field/cross country coach. Her student-athletes set numerous indoor and outdoor records – including 20 new school records for a total of 123 top-10 program marks. Rhodes also coached 10 All-Americans with 47 student-athletes qualifying for the national meet. She helped guide athletes to runner-up finishes in the 600 and pentathlon.

Rhodes was named the USTFCCCA Indoor West Region Assistant Women’s Coach of the Year three-consecutive seasons (2018-21) by her peers. She also swept the award in 2019-20, earning west region assistant coach of the year on both the men’s and women’s side.

Prior to her stint at EOU, Rhodes had two successful seasons at Misericordia University (2015-17) where she saw 11 of her student-athletes earn All-America honors while also breaking 21 school records (sprints and hurdles). Under Rhodes’ guidance, Juwan Pettis-Jackson captured the NCAA Indoor 200m title.

Before Misericordia, Rhodes served as an assistant track & field coach at Moravian College (2014-15) for a season. She coached one record holder, a national qualifier and seven conference champions.

Rhodes got her coaching start immediately after graduating at nearby Lane Community College for two seasons (2012-14) as the assistant track & field coach. Her impact was immediately with the Titans winning four conference championships in track & field during her time there.

During her time as a student-athlete with the Ducks, Rhodes was a two-time Pac-12 scorer and qualified for the NCAA West Region meet as a senior in the long jump and 100m hurdles. Her time of 8.62 in the 60m hurdles (indoor) still stands in the Women of Oregon record books sitting in a tie for 10th.

In addition, Rhodes is USATF Level Two certified in jumps, USTAFCCA Level Two certified in multi-events and USTAFCCCA Strength and Conditioning certified.

Rhodes earned her bachelor’s degree at Oregon in 2012 and later obtained her MBA with a specialization in sports management from Misericordia University in 2017.

Charlee Linton

Assistant Coach

Charlee Linton is in her first year with Utah. Linton was part of the distance team at Washington State from 2012-16. She remained in Pullman as a volunteer coach in 2016-17 before joining the staff full time in the summer of 2017.

Since joining the staff full time, WSU has had a pair of NCAA Cross Championship qualifiers and one All-American. The Cougars also had five qualify for the NCAA Track & Field West Regionals.

The Shoreline, Wash., native walked onto the WSU cross country and track program as a freshman before earning a scholarship her final two seasons. Linton scored for the Cougars three-straight years at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships and the NCAA West Region races. She was also named the team’s captain her junior year.

Out on the track, Linton broke the school record in the 10,000m (34:03.69) in 2015. Her best marks in the 5,000m and 3,000m (indoor) both rank in the top 10 at Washington State.

Linton graduated from Washington State in 2016 with a degree in psychology and minor in business administration.

Grayson Murphy

Volunteer Assistant Coach

Arguably, one of Utah’s most decorated athlete in program history, Grayson Murphy has also seen success on the pro circuit. She defended her USATF Mountain Racing Championship crown in August of 2021 after breaking the course record by nearly nine minutes at the Skibowl Ski Resort. Back in 2019, Murphy captured her first USATF Mountain Racing Championship title and earned a spot on Team USA at the World Mountain Running Championships. She then turned around and captured the World Mountain Running Championship title two months later in Argentina.

In just two years, Murphy left her mark on the Utah program in the record books and still holds the school record in the outdoor 3000m steeplechase (9:48.57) and indoor 5k (15:44.45). She is also third in the outdoor 5k (15:58.29), third in the outdoor 10k (33:17.85) and sixth in the indoor 3k (9:29.71).

Murphy also racked up the awards during her time at the U, garnering back-to-back first-team All-America honors in the outdoor 3000m steeplechase (2017 & 2018), consecutive second-team All-America honors in the indoor 5000m (2017 & 2018) and All-America honors in cross country (2017). Additionally, she earned all-region honors in cross country back-to-back season (2016 & 2017) and was a two-time All-Pac-12 honoree in cross country – including first-team honors in 2017.

A standout in the classroom, Murphy was also a two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic honoree in cross country (2016 & 2017) and a 2017 USTFCCCA All-Academic recipient in track.

Murphy started her career at Santa Clara, where she competed her first two collegiate seasons. Her 6k time of 20:46 is still second-best in program history for the Broncos in cross country. Meanwhile, she’s still the program leader in the outdoor 1500m and 3000m steeplechase.

Murphy graduated summa cum laude from Utah with a degree in civil engineering in 2018.

Michael Tamayo

Director of Operations

Michael Tamayo is in his third year after joining the Utah staff in the fall of 2019 as the Director of Operations.

Tamayo joins the University of Utah from Charlotte, N.C., where he competed at UNC Charlotte (2011-2016) as a member of the Track and Field program. Post collegiately, Tamayo was a volunteer coach at UNC Charlotte, as well as co-managing the top local running specialty store in the city.

Competing at UNC Charlotte, Tamayo was the school-record holder in the 600m, 800m, 100m and the 1500m events, which two records still stand today. In 2017, Tamayo competed in the 1000m semifinals of the USA Championships, after finishing his collegiate career at the first round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 800 meters. Tamayo's career-best time of 1:48.94 in the 800m event, still stands as the school's all-time record at UNC Charlotte.

Michael is one of three children belonging to David and Sheliah Tamayo, who currently reside in central North Carolina. His sister, Claire, is a proud middle-school social studies teacher, and his brother, David, currently attends UNC Charlotte seeking his bachelor's degree.

Kelise Davis, Lauren O'Banion, Brooklyn James and Jackie Martin recorded the second-fastest 4x400 time in school history in 2021.)

The Program

Cross Country Highlights

Four appearances at the NCAA Championships since 2015. Utah earned its first invitation as a team in 2015, finished 20th in 2016 and 2021, and had its best finish ever of 16th in 2019.

Earned its highest all-time finish at the 2021 Pac-12 Championships, coming in as the runner-up. Utah also placed third in 2019, and fifth in 2015, 2016 and 2020.

The Utes' best NCAA Regional finish was third in 2015. Utah was fourth in 2016, and fifth in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

Seven individual NCAA qualifiers in the last 12 seasons, all of them finishing in the top 90 at the NCAA Championships.

Seven individual NCAA qualifiers in the last 12 seasons, all of them finishing in the top 90 at the NCAA Championships.

Grayson Murphy placed eighth at the 2017 NCAA Championships—the highest finish ever by a Ute—to earn All-America honors.

Amanda Mergaert placed 14th at the 2012 NCAA Championships and was named an All-American.

Poppy Tank was 28th at the 2020 NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors.

Nine Utes have earned All-Pac-12 Conference honors since joining the league in 2011. Poppy Tank placed fifth in 2020 to become one of three Utes to be named All-Pac-12 twice. Amanda Mergaert (2011-Second Team, 2012-First Team) and Grayson Murphy (2016-Second Team, 2017-First Team) are the other two.

At the Pac-12 Championships in 2021, Emily Venters placed third for the best finish in program history while Cara Woolnough was seventh. In 2019, Tank (6th), Bella Williams (7th) and Sarah Feeny (10th) all placed in the top 10. Other top Pac-12 finishers in recent years include Hannah McInturff (10th place in 2015) and Grayson Murphy (12th place in 2016, 5th place in 2017).

Grayson Murphy, NCAA XC Championships
Grayson Murphy (right) had the highest individual finish in school history by placing eighth

Track & Field Highlights

Under Kyle Kepler, 58 athletes have posted 103 NCAA Outdoor preliminary qualifying marks and 11 athletes have advanced to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Utah's NCAA Regional Championships attendees increased from five in 2006 to as many as 10 in 2013 and 2021. The Utes have also sent three athletes to the NCAA Indoor Championships during that time.

Grayson Murphy was a four-time NCAA qualifier (in both the indoor 5,000m and outdoor 3,000m steeplechase in 2017 and 2018) during her two-year career. She recorded three top-10 finishes, including fifth in the steeplechase in 2017 and sixth in 2018.

Poppy Tank was just the second runner in school history to complete in multiple events at the NCAA Championships in 2021 (10,000m and 5,000m).

Amanda Mergaert (2011-13, 1500m) and Chelsea Shapard (2007-09, 400m hurdles) were both three-time NCAA attendees. Mergaert finished third in the 1,500m at NCAAs as a senior in 2013. She was the 2011 USTFCCCA Mountain Region Women's Track Athlete of the Year.

Utah has had seven podium finishes at the Pac-12 Championships, highlighted by Grayson Murphy coming in as the 2018 runner-up in the steeplechase and Poppy Tank placing fifth in the 10,000m in 2021.

Two Utes have won Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor track championships: Amanda Mergaert (Mile in 2012) and Rebekah Winterton (5,000m in 2014).

Since 2010, Utah has had one U.S. Senior Nationals qualifier, one U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier, and eight U.S. Junior National qualifiers. Of the eight Utes who competed at U.S. Junior Nationals, six have medaled (finishing in the top six).

Grayson Murphy was the top collegiate finisher with seventh-place finish at the 2018 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.

Sarah Feeny was a bronze medalist at the 2015 Pan American Juniors and a silver medalist at the U.S. Juniors in the 1,500m. In 2016, Chrissy Glasmann finished sixth in the javelin at U.S. Junior Championships.


Kyle Kepler has coached seven athletes to All-America honors at Utah.

Poppy Tank claimed All-America honors twice in 2020-21, earning first-team honors in cross country and the 10,000m at the outdoor championships.

Amanda Mergaert was a five-time All-American with her career culminating in first-team honors in cross country in 2012 and the indoor mile and the outdoor 1,500m in 2013.

Grayson Murphy was five-time All-American (twice in both the indoor 5,000 and the outdoor 3,000 steeplechase, and once in cross country) from 2016-18.

Langley Iverson (2011, indoor high jump), Brianna LeRoy (2012, outdoor high jump), Rosalie Waller (2014, outdoor 800m) and Sarah Feeney (2019, indoor mile) have also earned All-America honors at Utah under Kepler.

Academic Honors

Kyle Kepler's cross country teams have earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honors 12 years while his track teams have earned honors eight times. His athletes have combined for 67 individual honors from the USTFCCCA between track and cross country.

Lauren Endersen was a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2008 and 2009, while Rosalie Waller was honored in 2014.

Alyssa Abbott and Grace Englund have earned Pac-12 Post Graduate Scholarships.

Celsa Bowman

1987 All-American – Cross Country

Amanda Mergaert

Five-Time All-American

2011-13 Cross Country/Track & Field

Jill Molen

1982 U.S. National Champion – 10,000 meters

Grayson Murphy

Five-Time All-American

2017-18 Cross Country/Track & Field

Utah's Greatest

17 women have claimed 33 All-America awards all-time at Utah, with 24 coming in track & field and nine in cross country.

Utah athletes have earned 16 All-America citations since 2010

Grayson Murphy, who transferred to Utah for her final two seasons, became the program's second five-time All-American. She is the first Ute to become a four-time All-American in track & field (indoor 5,000m and outdoor 3,000m steeplechase, 2017-18), and she earned All-America honors in cross country in 2017.

Amanda Mergaert was the school’s first five-time All-American. She was an All-American three times in the 1,500m—she placed third in the event in 2013 to earned first-team honors and was a second-team honoree in 2011 and ’12. Mergaert was also an All-American in indoor track by placing fifth in the mile 2013. In cross country, Mergaert placed 14th at the 2012 NCAA Championships, which is the highest finish ever by a Ute.

Jill Molen was a four-time All-American, earning honors in cross country in 1981 and three times in track in 1982 (3 Mile, 5000m, 10000m). She was the 1982 national champion in the 10,000 meters.

Carla Pittelkow was an All-American in cross country in 1981 and twice in track 1982 (1500m, 5000m).

Poppy Tank was an All-American in cross country in 2020 and the 10,000m in 2021.

Brenda Alcorn was a two-time All-American in the high jump (1989 and ’91).

Team Facilities

McCarthey Family Track & Field

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Track & Field Training Facilities

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Sorenson High Performance Center

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Burbidge Academics Center

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