Some BYU fans live and die with the results of football or men’s basketball.
If they do, they are missing out.
Call them Olympic sports, but don’t call them minor sports: The “other” Cougar athletic programs regularly compete at the national level and even win championships.
Here’s a look at the Top 10 BYU Olympic sports stories of 2019.
1. The Big Gold Trophy
On a cold, rainy fall day in Indiana, the BYU men’s cross country team did something that no Cougar program has done since men’s volleyball did it in 2004 — win a national title. Coach Ed Eyestone crafted a well-rounded team that finished third, 17th, 21st, 42nd and 45th to claim the program’s first national title.
2. Running alone at the top
On June 5, BYU senior Clayton Young ran a terrific race in the 10,000 meters and outkicked Alabama’s Gilbert Kigen to cross the finish line in 29:16.60, claiming BYU’s first outdoor individual national title since Kyle Perry won the steeplechase in 2009. Connor McMillan (third) and Conner Mantz (fourth) made it a magical finish for the Cougars.
3. Rock steady
2019 was a glorious season for the BYU women’s soccer team. It was one of Jennifer Rockwood’s most experienced squads and the Cougars didn’t disappoint, posting an unbeaten record (18-0-1) during the regular season and rising to No. 4 in the national rankings. BYU won three NCAA Tournament games at home before running into a buzz saw in Palo Alto, losing to Stanford in the Elite 8. The Cardinal would go on to claim the national title.
4. USA on the uniform
Around 71 percent of the earth is covered by water, the rest by BYU women’s volleyball libero Mary Lake.
She finished her career in Provo as the all-time program leader in digs (1,898) and spent a wonderful summer in 2019 playing with the U.S. National team. Lake helped Team USA to a Nations League championship and she’ll have an opportunity to make the team again for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
5. Hard to stop
A fabulous guard line of freshman Shaylee Gonzalez, sophomore Paisley Johnson and junior Brenna Chase led the BYU women’s basketball team to the West Coast Conference championship, courtesy of a third victory against Gonzaga. The Cougars beat Auburn in the NCAA first round before succumbing to — you guessed it — Stanford in the second round.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, Gonzalez tore her ACL during summer workouts and will miss the entire 2019-20 season.
6. The best
The fall rankings for men’s college golf came out in mid-October and BYU’s Peter Kuest was ranked No. 1 in the country. He posted an NCAA-low 67.90 scoring average and recorded three top-finishes in as many tournaments for the Cougars. Kuest could make the spring golf schedule pretty exciting for BYU coach Bruce Brockbank and a run at the national title wouldn’t be out of the question.
7. Long-term excellence
On Dec. 30, the BYU women’s basketball team defeated Pepperdine 65-47 to go 2-0 to open WCC play. It was also the 400th career victory for Cougar coach Jeff Judkins, who took over the program in 2001. The former Rick Majerus assistant probably never imagined himself as a women’s head coach but he’s been a very good on in Provo.
8. One glorious week
The BYU women’s volleyball team lost a ton of talent from last year’s Final Four squad, but was a Top 10 team in 2019. On Sept. 19 the Cougars traveled to Salt Lake City and beat the 18th-ranked Utes 3-1. Then two days later, BYU walked into Maples Pavilion and upset No. 2 Stanford 3-1 behind 18 kills from senior McKenna Miller. The Cougars eventually dropped an NCAA tournament second-round match to a red-hot Utah team, which took eventual national champion Stanford to five sets in the Sweet 16.
9. Taking down the Bruins and the Waves
The BYU men’s volleyball team was very young in 2019 and went through some growing pains while dealing with some key injuries. But one weekend in March, the Cougars were at their absolute best in the Smith Fieldhouse. Shawn Olmstead had to turn to third-string setter Brody Earnest, a walk-on, but he played spectacularly and BYU upset No. 4 UCLA 3-2 and No. 6 Pepperdine 3-1 two nights later.
10. BYU men’s soccer wins club natty
You’ve got to honor a national title, and the BYU men’s soccer team won the big gold trophy at the club level in 2019.