PROVO — BYU has a deep and talented track and field squad this season, and it has not gone unnoticed. When coach Ed Eyestone was checking his team of 59 regional qualifiers into the official hotel at the NCAA West Preliminaries in Sacramento, California, a couple of weeks ago, a rival coach quipped, “I’m just glad there are some rooms left over for the rest of us.”
The Cougars proceeded to qualify a whopping 23 athletes for the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which get underway in Austin, Texas, this week.
The BYU men’s team, ranked fourth in the nation behind Texas Tech, Florida and LSU, is attempting to crack the top five for the 12th time in school history — the last time being 2005 — and, as usual, the Cougars will live or die with distance runners. They claimed third- and second-place finishes in the last two NCAA cross-country championships.
“If we are able to equal our rankings, then we would come away from this meet in a good place,” says Eyestone, the former four-time NCAA champion and two-time Olympic distance runner.
Here is a look at the team by the numbers:
10 — Of the 16 men who qualified for nationals from BYU, 10 did so in the three distance races — the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. Undoubtedly, they could have qualified more runners in the 5,000, but Eyestone chose not to double several of his best runners to keep their legs fresh for the 10,000 at nationals.
“We went through a time when we had mostly good middle-distance runners and I thought one of these days we’re going to get somebody in my events to nationals,” says Eyestone. “That time has come.”
6 — The number of BYU runners who qualified for nationals in the 10,000-meter run. That’s the most any team has ever qualified for any event in the history of the NCAA championships (BYU also held the old record, having once qualified five decathletes). The six qualifiers are Rory Linkletter, Connor McMillan, Conner Mantz, Clayton Young, Dallin Farnsworth and Connor Weaver, who finished first, fourth, fifth, eighth, 10th and 11th in the West region prelims, respectively. They likely would have qualified seven, but Daniel Carney was sidelined by an injury for several weeks and didn’t run well at the prelims.
3 — The number of BYU distance runners with the same name in the same race. See previous graph. “We are the first to have six in an event — and the first to have three guys named Connor,” says Eyestone.
1-2-3-4 — The top four fastest times in the nation in the 10,000-meter run have been produced by BYU athletes — seniors Linkletter, McMillan, Young and Mantz, in that order — the “The Big Four,” as Eyestone refers to them. They’re all Utah high school products.
“It was a special class that came in together,” says Eyestone.
8 — That’s how many distance runners have broken 29 minutes in the 10,000-meter run for BYU this season. For the uninitiated, that’s fast. Five of them now appear on BYU’s all-time top-10 list — this at a school with a great tradition of distance running. So far, none has even come close, though, to breaking Eyestone’s 34-year-old school record of 27:41.05.
5 — The number of school records set by women this spring, all of them long-standing marks. Erica Birk-Jarvis, after setting three indoor school records, broke Whitney McDonald’s 12-year-old school record in the 5,000-meter run, with a time of 15:38.12, and broke NCAA champion Kassi Andersen’s steeplechase record with a time of 9:42.54 (Birk’s mother Nicole still holds the school record in the 3,000-meter run).
Andrea Stapleton-Johnson broke Melinda Boice-Hale’s 25-year-old record in the high jump with a leap of 6-2½ (her father holds the men’s school record). Brenna Porter, a senior from Smithfield whose mother Jodie Bendorf is a former BYU hurdler, broke Julie Bennion’s 20-year-old record in the 400 hurdles with a time of 56.89. Jaslyn Gardner broke Windy Jorgensen’s 22-year-old record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.38. All but Stapleton-Johnson are Utah natives.
6 — The number of BYU women who qualified for nationals. Notwithstanding, it’s a team that can score well at nationals. Stapleton-Johnson leads the nation in the high jump, and Birk-Jarvis ranks second in the steeplechase behind two-time defending NCAA champion Allie Ostrander of Boise State.
4 — The number of BYU athletes in the 3,000-meter steeplechase between the men’s and women’s teams. Birk-Jarvis, who sat out last season to have a baby, is a title contender; Matt Owens has the third-fastest time in the nation among the men. The most surprising of the group is Kenneth Rooks, whose time of 8:36.08 makes him the second-fastest freshman ever.
The bottom line is that this is BYU’s best team in a long time and the Cougars have a chance for a podium finish in Austin this week.
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INSTATE QUALIFIERS FOR THE NCAA TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Erica Birk-Jarvis, steeplechase
Michael Bluth, 4x400 relay
Anna Camp, 800 meters
Blake Ellis, 4x400 relay
Lauren Ellsworth, 800 meters
Ricky Fantroy, triple jump
Dallin Farnsworth, 10,000 meters
Talem Franco, 1,500 meters
Jacob Heslington, steeplechase
Rory Linkletter, 10,000 meters
Conner Mantz, 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters
Brian Matthews, decathlon
Connor McMillan, 10,000 meters
Whittni Orton, 1,500 meters
Matt Owens, steeplechase
Brenna Porter, 400 hurdles
Kenneth Rooks, steeplechase
Abram Schaap, 4x400 relay
Clayson Shumway, steeplechase
Andrea Stapleton-Johnson, high jump
Connor Weaver, 10,000 meters
Colten Yardley, 4x400 relay
Clayton Young, 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters
George Espino, 800 meters
Kasey Knevelbaard, 1,500 meters
Frank Harris, high jump
Angie Nickerson, 5,000 meters
Skyler Porcaro, javelin
Sindri Gudmundsson, javelin
Cierra Simmons-Mecham, steeplechase
Tawnie Moore, 100 hurdles
Kate Sorensen, 400 hurdles
Nathan Dunivan, discus