Heading into this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, BYU is so loaded with talent across the board that head coach Ed Eyestone worries it will be difficult for him and his assistants watching from the stands.

“It’s hard to go out and get a snack and go to the bathroom because we’ve got so many guys in there,” he deadpans.

Talk about a good problem. The Cougars have earned a reputation for their distance runners — their men’s and women’s teams have each won an NCAA cross-country championship in the last two years — but they’re showing up in Eugene with 25 athletes spread across a broad range of events on the men’s side and the usual collection of distance and middle-distance runners on the women’s team. That makes them a factor in the team race. The men’s team is ranked No. 5 in the national poll; the women’s team No. 11. The men will compete Wednesday and Friday, the women Thursday and Saturday.

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The chart below shows the quality of the BYU team and the diverse events they will contest. As Eyestone puts it, “We aren’t just going to be in the final, we’re going to be extremely relevant; we may be in the lead.”

Three BYU athletes are pre-meet favorites in their specialties. Conner Mantz, who won the NCAA Cross-Country Championships in March, has the fastest time in the nation for 10,000 meters. His time of 27:41.16 is almost 14 seconds faster than his nearest rival.

Courtney Wayment, who won the 3,000-meter run and anchored the winning distance medley relay in the NCAA indoor championships last March, has the nation’s fastest time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Her time of 9:31.37 is not only seven seconds faster than any collegian, but it makes her the fifth fastest collegian ever. 

“She’s definitely a world-class talent,” says Eyestone. Wayment also owns the nation’s second fastest time at 5,000 meters, but won’t contest that event at nationals.

Then there’s Whittni Orton, whose 5,000-meter time of 15:12.91 makes her the fastest collegian this season and the seventh fastest collegian ever. She also has the third-fastest time in the nation for 1,500 meters. She will contest both races at nationals, but it will be a demanding double. The trials of the 1,500 are Thursday and the finals for the 1,500 are Saturday, followed by the finals of the 5,000 less than two hours later.

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Orton’s season has been remarkable — she added two school records this spring to the four she set indoors last year — especially given the fact that she didn’t begin running until early March because of a variety of injuries. “She has a unique ability to use alternative forms of training and not lose much fitness,” Eyestone said last winter, referring to the swimming, cycling and elliptical training that athletes do when they can’t run.

The Cougars will have a number of other strong entries in Eugene. Garrett Marsing, a senior from Price, has the third fastest time in the nation this season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Eyestone thinks he’s poised for a good race. Zach McWhorter, a sophomore from Arkansas, placed second in the pole vault in the NCAA indoor championships with a vault of 19 feet, ¾ inches. Cameron Bates, a junior from Spanish Fork, crushed the school record in the javelin this season with a throw of 253 feet, 2 inches, and has the fourth longest throw in the nation.

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The Cougars have rarely had national-class sprinters, but they have one this season in Michael Bluth, a senior from Riverton. He delivered a stunning performance at the NCAA West Region meet by placing second in the 400 metes with a world-class time of 45.13. That broke his own school record by more than a half second. He also ran legs on BYU’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams that qualified for the NCAA championships.

At nationals, he could run as many as six races, counting semifinals and finals to the finals, four of them at the brutal 400-meter distance. Then again, he had to follow the same schedule at the region meet, and less than two hours after his record run in the open 400, he reportedly ran the fastest split of the day in the 4x400 relay, a sizzling 44.48. 

As strong as the men’s team figures to be in this meet, the Cougars could be stronger. Mantz will not run the 5,000 even though he would be a sure bet to earn points (he has the fourth-fastest time in the nation at that distance). At the outset of the season, Eyestone and Mantz agreed that he would run only the longer distance at nationals because the 5,000-10,000 double was too demanding with the Olympic trials scheduled only one week later.  Mantz, with the sixth-fastest time among collegians and pros, has a realistic shot of cracking the top three, which would qualify him for the U.S. Olympic team.

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“Ultimately, we have to do what’s best for the athlete,” says Eyestone. “We’ll see how it comes out. We can do well (as a team).”

Mantz will face strong challenges in the NCAA 10,000 from Iowa State’s Wesley Kiptoo and Edwin Kurgat. Kiptoo likes to push the pace hard early in the race to break his rivals. It backfired in the NCAA cross-country meet in which Mantz let him go and then ran him down later in the race to win comfortably. Mantz demonstrated his raw speed this season when he ran a 1,500-meter race in 3:37.96 (the equivalent of about a 3:55 mile), which gives him a good weapon at the end of the 10,000.

The bottom line is that this is the finest track and field team BYU has produced in years. The Cougars broke school records in nine events this spring and qualified a nation-leading 69 athletes to the region meet.

“It’s been fun seeing it all come together,” says Eyestone. “We’re going to go in there and, instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on running personal bests.”

If they do that, the Cougars will finish near the top of the leaderboard.


Utah collegians participating in 2021 NCAA Track and Field Championships

Utah qualifiers for the NCAA Track and Field Championships, including their best marks for the 2021 season and where those marks rank nationally (in parenthesis).

BYU

Athlete —  Event — Best mark       

Michael Bluth — 400 meters — 45.13 (10th) 

Colton Yardley — 400 hurdles — 50.04 (14th)

Talem Franco — 1,500 meters — 3:37.55 (6th)

Lucas Bons — 1,500 meters — 3:37.68 (8th)

Garrett Marsing — Steeplechase — 8:34.40 (3rd)

Clayson Shumway — Steeplechase — 8:40.67 (16th)

Casey Clinger — 5,000 meters — 13:24.90 (7th)

Conner Mantz — 10,000 meters — 27:41.16 (1st)

Andrew Stuart — 4x100 relay — 39.43 (16th)

Michael Bluth — 4x100 relay — 39.43 (16th)

Landon Maxfield — 4x100 relay — 39.43 (16th)

Dallin Draper — 4x100 relay — 39.43 (16th)

Colton Yardley — 4x400 relay — 3:04.52 (14th)

Landon Maxfield — 4x400 relay — 3:04.52 (14th)

Dallin Draper — 4x400 relay — 3:04.52 (14th)

Michael Bluth — 4x400 relay — 3:04.52 (14th)

Zach McWhorter — Pole vault — 19-0 ¾* (2nd)

Cameron Bates — Javelin — 253-2 (4th)

Dallin Shurts — Discus — 191-3 (14th)

Dallin Vorkink — Decathlon — 7,501 (13th)

Claire Seymour — 800 meters — 2:02.03* (11th)         

Anna Camp — 800 meters — 2:02.83 (14th)

Anna Camp — 1,500 meters — 4:11.63 (11th)

Kate Hunter — 1,500 meters — 4:14.41 (---)

Whittni Orton — 1,500 meters — 4:09.31 (3rd)

Whittni Orton — 5,000 meters — 15:12.91 (1st)

Courtney Wayment — Steeplechase — 9:31.37 (1st)

Sara Musselman — Steeplechase — 9:55.98 (---)

Meghan Hunter — 4x400 relay — 3:33.30 (18th)

Lauren Ellsworth — 4x400 relay — 3:33.30 (18th)

Claire Seymour — 4x400 relay — 3:33.30 (18th)

Alena Ellsworth — 4x400 relay — 3:33.30 (18th)

Cierra Allphin — High jump — 5-11 ½ (21st)

Utah

Poppy Tank — 5,000 meters — 16:00.19 (---)

Poppy Tank — 10,000 meters — 32:52.65 (13th)

Weber State

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Summer Allen — Steeplechase — 9:47.51 (9th)

Kate Sorensen — 400 hurdles — 57.59 (21st)

Lexie Thompson — 10,000 meters — 32:49.62 (9th)

( i) = mark from indoor season

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