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Heady times for BYU athletics? You could say that

Success across the board, and during a difficult time, has made for a memorable year

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BYU coach Kalani Sitake celebrates win over UCF during the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22, 2020. It was an impressive sports year for BYU.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates a win over the UCF Knights during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. BYU won 49-23.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

If you can name the BYU quarterback succession going back to Gary Sheide and sing the BYU fight song forward and backward, read on.

It’s a pretty good time to be a Y. fan. Look around. The Cougars are on a roll — or haven’t you noticed?

There aren’t many schools in the country who have scored better across the board in athletics than BYU during the 2020-21 school year.

It began with the football season last fall. After consecutive 7-6 records, the Cougars won 11 of 12 games, finished No. 11 in the final national polls and won a bowl game by a mile. Who saw that coming? Or this: Quarterback Zach Wilson became the most talked about player in the pre-draft buildup and wound up being the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. He’s taking his act to Broadway.

And then the school’s cross-country team one-upped them, with a lot less fanfare. The women’s team not only won the NCAA cross-country championship, they won it by a rout. The men, the defending champions, faded to seventh after one of their top runners passed out in the homestretch, but Conner Mantz won the men’s individual championship.

This was only days after the BYU women finished seventh in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and claimed two event championships — Courtney Wayment won the 3,000 meters and teamed up with Olivia Simister and sisters Lauren and Alena Ellsworth to win the distance medley relay with the second fastest time in NCAA history.

BYU guard Brandon Averette reaches for a rebound against UCLA during NCAA Tournament game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) reaches for a rebound against UCLA during first-round game in the NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021.

AJ Mast, Associated Press

The men’s basketball team lost its best player, Gavin Baxter, to injury before the season began, but when the final polls were released BYU was ranked No. 23 and won a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where the Cougars lost to Final Four-bound UCLA. The women’s basketball team also won a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The men’s volleyball team was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 throughout the season and advanced to the championship match of the NCAA Tournament, where the Cougars lost to Hawaii. Three players were named first-team All-American — Wil Stanley, Davide Gardini and Gabi Garcia Fernandez. The women’s volleyball team also qualified for the NCAA Tournament, and senior Kennedy Eschenberg was named third-team All-American.

The women’s gymnastics team finished No. 19 in the final national rankings after spending four weeks at No. 11.

BYU’s Whittni Orton broke the school record in the 5,000-meter run in the Sound Invitational in Irvine, California.

FILE Photo — Whittni Orton set her fifth and sixth school records (indoors and outdoors) in a little more than a year, the latest coming in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters. In the latter race, she and Wayment clocked the seventh and ninth fastest times, respectively, in NCAA history.

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

Then there’s the Cougars’ ongoing performance in outdoor track and field. Wayment ran the fifth fastest time in NCAA history in the steeplechase and smashed the school record.

The men’s team is ranked No. 2 in the country in track and field, led by Mantz, who last week ran the fastest time in the nation for 10,000 meters. The Cougars have three sub four-milers on their squad — Talem Franco, Lucas Bons, Casey Clinger — or four if you count Mantz’s 3:37.96 for 1,500 meters, which converts to about a 3:55 mile. In the national rankings (based on time), BYU has three runners in the top 10 of the 5,000, the No. 4-ranked pole vaulter and the No. 8 steeplechaser.

The women’s soccer team was ranked 12th in the nation (but bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round), and Mikayla Colohan was one of 16 players named to the first-team All-America team. She was the 14th overall pick in the annual National Women’s Soccer League draft, by the Orlando Pride (her cousin Cloee Colohan was also the 14th pick of the NWSL draft, in 2014). She is the seventh BYU player to be taken in the draft since 2013.

The softball team won 24 of its last 26 regular-season games to claim its 12th straight conference championship and the automatic NCAA bid that came with it.

In sum, it’s been the kind of year in sports that will be difficult to match.