Aug 29, 2013
OREM, Utah -- A new conference logo on the uniforms won't change head coach Scott Houle's expectations for his men's and women's cross country teams at Utah Valley University. The Wolverine harriers are ready to commence their tenure as members of the Western Athletic Conference after dominating the Great West Conference to the tune of nine combined titles over five seasons.
"The WAC is a step up," Houle said. "It increases our visibility, the competition is stronger and the conference is nationally known. The kids are very excited and have trained extremely hard. The opportunity to run under the WAC umbrella certainly gives us a boost. But we have the same goals: to win a conference championship and qualify kids for nationals."
The reigning and final GWC champions open the 2013 season at the Utah State Aggie Invitational on Saturday in Logan. The men are slated for an 8K start at 9 a.m. and the women's 5K beginning at 9:45 a.m. at the Innovation Campus Wellness Park (1498 North 800 East).
The Wolverines will embark on the 2013 season without four of their core returners from last year. On the men's side, Houle will redshirt Cliff Nielson and Macy Butterfield, each of who were top finishers on last season's championship team. Nielson led UVU in five of last year's meets - winning the individual title at the GWC Championship - and Butterfield finished in the top three on the team in every race and second at the conference championship.
"We feel comfortable with Cliff and Macy redshirting with the guys we have coming back," Houle said. "All were part of a conference championship team and ran well before going on their missions."
Four of those to return ran in 2009 before serving LDS missions and redshirting in 2012: Jason Lynch, Chris Brower, Trac Norris and Seth Gutzwiller. In 2009, Lynch was the Great West Newcomer of the Year and first team All-Conference with Gutzwiller and Norris both earning second team honors.
"We have others that are very talented and bring strength and depth to the team as well," said Houle, who has been named the Great West Cross Country Coach of the Year nine times.
On the women's side, while Ally Deeter and Ivie Gonsalves will both redshirt, UVU does return sophomore Darian Sharp, who as a freshman led the team in five of the seven competitions.
"She ran number one for us and was always in the top 20 of all the meets," Houle said. "She was one of the top freshmen in the country and she's back and healthy and looks even stronger than last year."
Two seniors, Brooke Hodson-Davies and Jessica Wilding, also return. Hodson-Davies qualified for the steeplechase last spring at the NCAA Track & Field Championships and competed in Austin, Texas in the opening rounds.
"Brooke's success last year at the NCAA's has given her a ton of confidence," said Houle.
Following the opening meet in Logan, the team will host the UVU Collegiate on Sept. 13 in Orem. The Wolverines will also compete at Montana State, Southern Utah and Santa Clara prior to the WAC Championships in Seattle on Nov. 2. The NCAA Mountain Regional will be held Nov. 15 in Ogden with the NCAA Championships Nov. 23 in Terra Haute, Indiana.
"We like to start off with a couple of local meets, which allows us to take the whole team and give everyone the chance to race. It's a good chance for the freshmen and the newcomers to get a chance to compete," Houle said. "The UVU Collegiate allows the kids to stay home and gives us a good opportunity for the valley to see the team."
Utah Valley enters the season with the men ranked seventh and the women 10th in the Mountain Region in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) pre-season poll. The only other WAC schools to be included in regional rankings are the New Mexico State men (15th, Mountain Region) and Texas-Pan American women (15th, South Central Region).
"Last year we started out 15th and 14th and ended up fifth and seventh so very seldom will the rankings end up where they start., but it's nice to give us a starting gate," said Houle. "Our kids are getting better; we're getting more competitive and gaining more depth."