Even though the BYU women's cross country team has been crowned NCAA champions four of the past six years, the talk of winning a national title is not in the team's vocabulary.
BYU coach Patrick Shane doesn't want his team to feel the pressure of winning the title. In fact, winning a national crown is not even a goal the women runners set prior to every season.
"We chose to focus on what we can do," Shane said. "We want to take care of the day-to-day stuff like training hard and smart, studying well and eating healthy. If there is a goal, it is to find out how good we can be. We'll figure that out at the end of November. How good we are in November, that's what really matters."
The end of November is when the 2003 NCAA Championships take place in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
This year, Shane has a handful of experienced runners that will give the Cougars an opportunity for a third straight NCAA championship.
The top-returning runners for the women's team are sophomore Kassi Andersen and junior Michaela Mannova. Mannova finished fifth at the NCAA championships last year, while Andersen finished seventh.
"We might have the best one-two punch in the nation," Shane said.
BYU's one-two punch of Andersen and Mannova are not all the Cougars have waiting to compete.
Runners that Shane will count on to make an impact are Laura Turner, Breanne Sandberg, Suzanna Larsen, Anika Busby and Lisa Antonelli.
"We will also have somebody come out of nowhere," Shane said. "It happens every year."
This year Shane thinks Busby or Tiffany Rust could be two of those surprises. Also joining the Cougar squad this year is Orem native Amber Harper. Normally, freshmen redshirt their first year at BYU. But according to Shane, Harper will not redshirt.
"Right now we plan on running her," he said. "We think she can be in our top seven."
As the women prepare for another strong season, the BYU men's cross country team is also ready to kick off its season.
The men's team has qualified for the NCAA Championships three straight years. This year, BYU men's coach Ed Eyestone is hoping to see his team finish in the top 10. The Cougars have finished 23rd, 12th and 16th at the NCAAs.
"Now the expectations of the guys is not just to get to nationals," Eyestone said. "They have their eyes forward on wanting to be a top 10 team."
With returners Kip Kangogo and Bryan Lindsay, the Cougars could be in a position for an NCAA top 10 finish. This year Kangogo will be running with added incentive after a disappointing 33rd-place finish at the NCAA meet last year, hindered by a hamstring injury.
"He is that much more experienced now and that has given him a lot of confidence," Eyestone said on Kangogo. "He is in form and ready for a strong finish at nationals. He is anxious to prove that his 33rd place finish at nationals was because his injury slowed him down."
Lindsay, an All-American in track's 1,500 meters, is a runner who Eyestone says has shown, "great improvement and dedication to be the number two runner."
In order for the men's team to finish in the top 10 this year, Eyestone says a lot will depend on what happens with the returned missionaries in the program.
The BYU men and women's cross country teams will begin their season today with an alumni race at 8 p.m. on the intramural fields west of Edwards Stadium. Next Saturday BYU hosts its Autumn Classic at Cascade Golf Course.