PROVO — BYU All-American Conner Mantz didn’t have to do it, but he couldn’t help showing off a little for the home crowd at the NCAA’s Mountain Regional Cross Country Championships at Timpanogos Golf Club on Friday.
Mantz could have coasted home with a mini-sprint and separation from the congested pack down the final 100 meters. He could have spent a little energy at the end and settled for a tight but comfortable win or even settled for second place and it would have been fine with his coach Ed Eyestone.
But Mantz’ alpha dog DNA kicked in when a Northern Arizona star runner was in the lead, and Mantz, the defending national champion, couldn’t help it. He sprinted to a comfortable win of nearly two seconds over Nico Young of No. 1-ranked NAU in a time of 29:39.6 on the 10,000-meter layout.
“He was probably thinking, ‘This is a big kick for a regional, but I’m at home so, yeah,’” said Eyestone. “Part of it is for pride. People came to see him win so, so what? The big race is obviously next week. NAU was holding people out, we were holding people out, and I’m sure Colorado also held people out.”
As it turned out, the top women and men’s teams all held out some of their best runners in preparation for the NCAA national championships in Tallahassee, Florida, in a week.
Kind of like the NBA regular season.
Cross-country rests folks, too.
BYU’s men won the Mountain Regional with a score of 42 points, followed by Northern Arizona (57), Colorado (83), fourth-place Arizona (130), and fifth-place Southern Utah (152). Weber State finished in sixth place with 155 points. Utah State was eighth with 177, and Utah Valley finished 10th with 301 points.
BYU’s women finished in third place with 107 points behind first-place New Mexico (62), and Colorado (83). Utah’s women finished in fifth place (146), followed by seventh-place Utah State (199), Weber State (212), and No. 9 UVU (217). SUU’s women finished 11th with 325 points.
“The last 100 meters I knew that a lot of individuals and teams were easing up because we have nationals next week. When I saw Nico Young from NAU take the lead, I thought, ‘With a hundred to go, it’s not going to wear me out too much if I have a hard surge.’ So that’s how I decided to take the lead with 100 to go,” said Mantz.
BYU’s Casey Clinger finished in third place (29:42.9) in the men’s regional, just ahead of Christian Allen of Weber State (29:43.4). Southern Utah’s Christian Ricketts was seventh (29:54.5), followed by BYU’s Brandon Garnica (eighth), and Adien Troutner (ninth).
In the women’s regional, won comfortably by Northern Arizona’s Taryn O’Neil (5:26.6), SUU’s Allison Pray finished fifth (5:28.4), followed by BYU’s Anna Camp (20:6.5). Camp’s Cougar teammate Aubrey Frentheway finished seventh with a time of 5:29.0. Weber State’s Summer Allen was in eighth place with a time of 5:29.1.
BYU’s women’s head coach Diljeet Taylor consoled some team members who were emotional afterwards for not finishing better at the end, but she kept saying what transpired was exactly what the team needed.
“Coming into this regional meet, with it being eight days before the national meet, this was a stepping stone for nationals and we wanted to get by with minimal effort,” said Taylor. “I know that sounds crazy when it’s a race and it’s hard for the women to hold back because they get in that race and emotions fly, but we held out three of our top five today and that gave others a chance to step up and help the team. I’m excited for next week.”
Utah’s No. 7 ranked women enjoyed a fifth-place spot.
“I’m incredibly proud of this entire group,” head coach Kyle Kepler said postrace. “We’ve had to deal with some adversity over the past 8-9 days and they rose to the challenge in the most difficult region in the country. They never wavered, put their heads down, and got the job done.
“For Bella Williams and Cara Woodworth to make All-Region Team as seniors was terrific. They have both meant so much and done so much for this program. I could not be prouder of our women. They earned us another opportunity to compete on the national stage and I know they are looking forward to that.”
Eyestone downplayed his men’s team victory because knew No. 1 Northern Arizona and No. 2 Colorado were sandbagging, just as he was, by holding out top runners.
“Super pleased with the guys’ performance. We came out and wanted to get a controlled effort. Third is first as far as this meet was concerned as far as advancing to nationals. It could have been a five, six, or seventh-place.
“But the guys get running at home in front of the crowd and I think they were still able to accomplish advancing being comfortable with a win. You are never going to apologize for winning when you can do it comfortably, and they did that,” said Eyestone.
“I told Conner we don’t have to win, this doesn’t count in your streak, but I also know that he’s a competitor and if it is close and he’s running easy, he’s going to try and get the win at home.”
Eyestone explained the top two teams from each region automatically qualify but also, according to wins you have against teams that are automatically qualified, you can advance if you finish fifth, sixth, or seventh.
“We knew going in we probably had nine kills against regions that were going to advance. If we took third, we would probably be the first team in at large. On the women’s side, she (Taylor) held out some of her studs, too.
“The coaches kind of get it, so it can get a little embarrassing if you get the win when everyone knows they are holding out people. NAU is ranked No. 1 and Colorado is ranked No. 2 while we are No. 7 or 8 and we end up winning this and people look at this and think, ‘Oh, wow, BYU is a lot better than them. Frankly, I think we are better than many realize, but we may not be in the realm of NAU or Colorado. But we held out some people, too.”
SUU coach Eric Houle was proud of his team’s finish.
SUU’s men finished in fifth place and the women finished in 14th place overall. The men’s team finished high enough to qualify for the NCAA National Championships for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
“Only 31 teams move on to the national championship and get a shot at that title,” Houle said. “For this to be the seventh time in the last eight years speaks volumes as to what kind of athletes we have on this team and within this program.”
Eyestone loves that Mantz has an extra gear, even if he didn’t need it in this regional.
“Conner has a way at the end of 10,000 meters to kind of ignite the turbos and go. A lot of times he doesn’t need to do that because he’s beat the competition, but it’s nice to know you have another gear to go through.”