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Cougs, Utes ready to run today

While the location of today's Mountain West Conference cross country championships has changed, the expectations and goals of the BYU and Utah teams have not.

Wildfires in Southern California, and most specifically in the scheduled venue of San Diego, have forced officials to switch the race to Albuquerque, N.M., at the University of New Mexico north golf course.

The men's race will begin at 10 a.m. today, followed by the women's race at 11 a.m. Travel time is about the same, and preparation — at least for BYU and Utah — won't be affected.

"The main difference is that it's now an altitude race instead of a sea-level race, but we're also prepared for that," BYU men's coach Ed Eyestone said, pointing out that the only team he thinks might be adversely affected is San Diego Stat.

The No. 17 BYU women, who have won 24 of the last 25 conference championships, are led this season by freshman Angela Wagner and sophomore Katie Bowen. Wagner is an MWC athlete of the week honoree and was the top Cougar finisher at both the BYU Autumn Classic and Pre-Nationals. Bowen led her team at the Bill Dellinger Invitational. At Pre-Nationals, only 26 seconds separated Wagner and the rest of the team.

Head coach Patrick Shane said keeping up his team's tight running style will be important at the championships.

"The whole team has come together remarkably well," he said. "I'm so impressed with the strong team unity and the sense of oneness as a team this year."

The women find themselves in a rather unfamiliar position — underdog.

Colorado State is ranked No. 12 nationally and No. 1 in the Mountain Region, and is favored to win the championship. The BYU women have won 19 straight titles, and have never lost since the formation of the Mountain West Conference.

The men are paced by junior transfer runner Stephan Shay and senior team captain Chandler Goodwin. Shay finished second at both the Autumn Classic and the Dave Murray Invitational, and was an MWC athlete of the week. Goodwin was 13th at the Notre Dame Invitational and eighth at the Autumn Classic.

Brandon Hebbert has been the Cougars' No. 3 runner this season, and Eyestone hopes Jacob Gustafsson can lead the second group of BYU runners.

"Stephan has certainly been up there, along with Chandler (Goodwin) and (Brandon) Hebbert," Eyestone said. "I anticipate that they will be up there again, and we hope that Jacob Gustafsson can bridge the gap between our top runners and the others."

BYU is ranked No. 26 nationally and No, 4 in the Mountain Region.

The Utah women are aiming high going into the weekend's race.

"It's a big goal, but we're hoping to finish third," Utes head coach Kyle Kepler said. "After the big two (Colorado State and BYU), we think we'll be right in the mix with New Mexico and Wyoming."

Utah, which finished sixth at last year's championships, is led by freshman Lauren Lewis.

"She wasn't expected to be our top runner, but she took it and, no pun intended, kind of ran with it," Kepler laughed.

After that, it's been Alyssa Abbott and Rebecca Mackelprang for Utah, which features no seniors for the second season in a row.

As for the change in venue at seemingly the 11th hour, Kepler said it was a positive for his runners.

"Our kids are excited, because it's a course that they like," he said. "I'm happy with them, because there was never a moment of panic about what we were doing, where we were going."

WAC: Both the Utah State men's and women's teams will have a chance to defend their championships on their home course. For the first time, the Western Athletic Conference will hold its cross country championships in Logan. The Aggie men are running for a third straight conference championship and are led by junior Seth Wold. The women's team is led by senior Amy Egan.The competition will be held at the American West Heritage Center, with the men's race (8K) at 9 a.m. and the women's race (5K) at 9:45 a.m. There is no admission charge.

BIG SKY: The Wildcats will attempt to defend their conference championships today in Missoula, Mont. The WSU men, picked to finish second in the preseason poll, will have to contend with No. 2 Northern Arizona, which is coming off a victory at Pre-Nationals. The Wildcats are led by senior Seth Pilkington. The Weber women will also face a tough challenge from No. 20 Northern Arizona. The Wildcats' top runner is senior Sariah Long.

SUMMIT LEAGUE: SUU will attempt to sweep the Summit League championships today at Macomb, Ill. The women's team, picked to finish second in the preseason poll, is led by Sharla Platt. The men's team, which entered the year as the conference favorite, is led by Mark Currell.

INDEPENDENT: Utah Valley State will compete in the Independent championships today at Brownsville, Texas. Both the men's and women's teams are coming off victories over Southern Utah on Oct. 13. In that meet, Ayisha Mitchell finished first for the women and Chase Englestead was fifth in the men's race.


E-mail: cpeterson@desnews.com