PROVO — The BYU men's cross country team all but guaranteed itself a berth in the NCAA championship with a third-place finish at the Mountain Regional meet Saturday in Provo, while the BYU women left nothing to chance by finishing second in their race.
Josh Rohatinsky led BYU with a third-place finish and after the meet said everything went as the team had hoped.
"That's exactly what we wanted to do," he said. "I think we ended up in third place, and that's all you want to do in this meet — qualify to go to nationals, but do it as easily as you can, and I think we did fine today."
The top two teams from each race earned automatic invitations to the NCAA Championship meet on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. Although BYU finished behind Colorado and UTEP, the team should qualify at-large because of strong performances against other qualifying teams in previous meets this season.
BYU men's coach Ed Eyestone said he was particularly pleased with the way his second through fifth runners hung close together. Chandler Goodwin (thirteenth overall), Dustin Bybee (20th), Josh McAdams (24th) and Nick McCombs (26th) were all within 25 seconds of each other.
But, Eyestone said, Nationals now loom large as a big challenge.
"We've got our work cut out for us," he said. "There are some strong teams — and we're going to have to dig down to get a podium spot, but this sets us up well. Bottom line, we didn't tap ourselves out, and I think we'll have some room to grow and improve."
The BYU women, who also would have earned an at-large invitation with a top-four finish, had set their sights on winning Saturday's meet anyway.
"We're pleased to be going to Nationals — that's really what this meet is all about — but we're disappointed that we didn't win it," said BYU women's coach Patrick Shane.
Heidi Magill led BYU with a fourth-place finish, four seconds ahead of teammate Chelsea Smith-McKell, who finished fifth. Breanne Sandberg finished 12th, Amy Fowler was 14th and Anne Heiner was 24th.
The team finished just six points behind defending national champion Colorado, who finished four runners in the top eight, but nearly slipped out of first place because of a 33rd-place finish by its fifth runner.
For runners and coaches alike, the goal in Saturday's meet was to do what needed to be done to advance, while saving enough energy for the National meet, just nine days away. Athletes said they felt fine after the race, and that they will be ready.
"Coach will have us ready," Magill said. "He's really good about that, and about having us peaked and ready to go. So I'm not worried at all." Coaches said they would focus on recovery and staying loose in this week, but there is little more that can be done in terms of preparation.
"Really, the hay's in the barn at this point," Shane said. "There's not much we can do."
ALSO QUALIFYING: BYU's teams were the only local schools to qualify for the national meet. Southern Utah, Weber State, Utah State and the Utah women also competed.
The top four runners in each race from schools that don't qualify will be invited to Nationals. That means Utah State's Trever Ball, who finished 12th, is in, as is fellow Aggie Tiffany Strickland, who finished 10th. The USU men's team finished sixth and the women's team seventh.
If the Northern Arizona women, who finished third, qualify as a team, Weber State's Katie Bowen will also be eligible for the national meet. She finished 11th. The Weber women finished fifth as a team; the Weber men finished ninth.
SUU men place 12th; the T-Bird women were 13th. The Utah women were 15th.