On a rainy, muddy afternoon in Terre Haute, Indiana, the BYU men’s cross-country pulled an upset and claimed its first national championship in program history.

Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, the No. 3 seed Cougar men outperformed top-ranked Northern Arizona, 109-163, while on the women’s side, BYU finished in second place behind Arkansas. 

“It’s the men’s first national championship in cross country. They represent groups of guys that I’ve worked with over the last 20 years. It’s fun to get to the top.” — BYU men’s cross country coach Ed Eyestone

“It’s a testament to all the hard work, the staff and the administration and the trainers, the coaches and obviously, first and foremost the student athletes,” men’s coach Ed Eyestone said of the title. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. To have it finally come together was very rewarding. I’m super proud of the way the men responded. And I’m super proud of the women as well.”

Eyestone also became the first person in NCAA men’s cross-country history to win an individual national championship as a runner, which he did in 1984, and also to lead a team to a national championship. 

“It’s the men’s first national championship in cross-country,” Eyestone said. “They represent groups of guys that I’ve worked with over the last 20 years. It’s fun to get to the top.”

This marks the first national championship captured by a BYU team since the men’s volleyball squad won the NCAA Tournament in 2004. 

The BYU men’s cross-country team was led by sophomore Conner Mantz, who finished third overall with a time of 30:40 and he received All-American honors for the second consecutive season. 

“Conner is in that position where he’s one of the top guys in the country and we kind of take for granted that he’s going to be the guy up there,” Eyestone said. “It’s inspiring to the other four guys. They knew they just had to put together a good race. We knew that if we all ran our best races, we could do very well as a team.”

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For BYU, Danny Carney (31:05.7) placed 17th while Jacob Heslington (31:10.5) finished 21st. 

With NAU having won three straight national championships, many observers expected the Lumberjacks to win again. But Eyestone knew his team could do something special.

“I can’t say I was brimming with confidence. I was confident that our men could put together a good race. NAU was heavily favored and going for a four-peat,” he said. “People had them as a rock-solid favorite, then maybe Colorado, which was ranked No. 2, and us. We were ranked third coming in. But I felt like we had a pretty good shot. As it turned out, due to the heart and the grit of our guys, it was a bit of a blowout, which is pretty exciting.”

The BYU women finished as the national runners-up to Arkansas, which scored 96 points compared to the Cougars’ 102. BYU was led by three top-10 finishers — Courtney Wayment, Erica Birk-Jarvis and Whittni Orton. 

After the men’s championship, Eyestone’s phone filled up with 72 messages. He and the team left Terre Haute for Indianapolis, where they were scheduled to put on a fireside at a stake center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and eat a celebratory meal at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. 

“It will be a fun fireside when you’ve had a good day,” Eyestone said. “It’s a nice feeling to close the season on a really positive note, especially when the guys have worked so hard and so long as a team to do this.”

For Eyestone, it’s a gratifying accomplishment to clinch a team championship to go along with his personal championship earned 35 years ago. 

“To add the team aspect is a great feeling. I recognize that when I was running for BYU in the 1980s, BYU had a great tradition of distance runners,” he said. “It was kind of a legacy that I had become a part of. It gives me great joy to continue on and get us to the top of the mountain as a team. Hopefully, it doesn’t take us another 20 years to get our next one.”