In the end, it was surprisingly easy.
The BYU men’s cross country team entered Saturday’s NCAA championships at Terre Haute, Indiana as the No. 3-seed, behind No. 1-seed (and defending national champs) Northern Arizona and No. 2-seed Colorado.
But this day would belong to the Cougars.
With sophomore Conner Mantz setting the pace in the 10-kilometer race, the BYU squad started strong and never looked back. The Cougars led comfortably after every split and no one ever moved to challenge as the BYU men won their first national title in school history.
Mantz ended up third overall, finishing in 30:40.0 (just over seven seconds behind Iowa State senior Edwin Kurgat, who won the race).
BYU senior Daniel Carney (31:05.7) was 17th overall and 14th in the team competition, while senior Jacob Heslington (31:10.5) ended up 21st overall and 17th in the team competition.
The two other counting scores for the Cougars were sophomore Brandon Garnica (31:21.3, 42nd overall, 36th team) and sophomore Matt Owens (31:25.4, 45th overall, 39th team).
BYU’s team score of 109 was 54 points higher than anyone else. The second place battle between the Lumberjacks and Buffaloes came down to a single point with Northern Arizona (163) edging Colorado (164).
BYU had previously finished second at the NCAA championships twice (1993 and 2018) but finally got over the top to win the title.
According to the press release from BYU, Cougar head coach Ed Eyestone became the first person in NCAA men’s cross country history to win an individual national title as a runner (1984) and then coach a team to win a championship. The men’s national title also is the first NCAA championship won by a BYU team since the men’s volleyball won the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
“It was a huge day for us, for the program,” Eyestone said in the BYU press release. “I’m incredibly proud of coach Taylor and how the women performed. Seeing them rise up was really inspiring. We knew it could be a great day for BYU. Proud of the way the guys fought through the elements, it was raining for most of the race. I think our guys proved that they are ‘mudders.’ These guys that we have here on our team are tough, they overcome adversity and can compete through anything.”
BYU women’s cross country finishes second
Just how much margin is there for cross country runners?
Consider just how close the BYU women’s cross country team was to catching No. 1-ranked Arkansas in Saturday’s NCAA championships at Terre Haute, Indiana.
Cougar senior Olivia Hoj and junior Anna Camp-Bennett finished in a pack of runners who crossed the line having run the 6-kilometer race in around 21 minutes.
Hoj ended up 56th overall (20:59.4) while Camp-Bennett was 60th overall (21:01.3), making them the No. 4 and No. 5 runners that finished for BYU.
Cross country team titles are decided by the counting finishers by each of the top five runners for each program.
The Cougars ended up second with a team total of 102, while the Razorbacks won the race with a team total of 96.
But if Hoj and Camp-Bennett has somehow each found a way to run one second faster and pass the runners that finished during that minuscule differential, BYU would’ve had enough points to tie Arkansas for the title.
That’s just how close it was.
The Cougars got outstanding performances from seniors Courtney Wayment (20:16.1) and Erica Birk-Jarvis (20:16.1) and junior Whittni Orton (20:17.0), who came in as a group to finish No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 respectively.
“Our women ran amazing,” BYU head women’s cross country coach Diljeet Taylor said in the press release. “That was an overall great performance. I’m really proud of how tough they were out there. Getting NCAA runner-ups after finishing so close is a little bit bittersweet when you’re a competitor. We were ranked third coming in so we knew we had a shot to win it and our women for the win so I’m really proud of that. We had some crazy dreams, no one expected this out of us before the season. We fought for that crazy dream and I’m unbelievably proud of our women and how hard they worked.”