The BYU men’s team, ranked second in the national polls, will be among the favorites to win Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championship in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“It’s probably going to come down to four teams,” says coach Ed Eyestone. “Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma State and Northern Arizona. It’s going to be close. It’ll come down to who has a good day.”
“We’re a podium team (top four). It’s just a matter of if we’re fourth or we have a really good day and get third or we have a really great day and get second or we have an incredible day and get first.” — BYU coach Ed Eyestone
In the women’s race, BYU ranks sixth and the University of Utah ninth.
The Utah Valley women’s team also qualified for the championships as did the Utah State men’s team.
The women’s 6,000-meter race will begin at 9:20 a.m. MST; the men’s race will follow at 10:10. Temperatures in Stillwater are expected to be in the high 20s to low 30s in the morning.
It’s difficult to assess teams based on the results of the regional championships or some of the big regular-season competitions because the top teams rested some of their top runners. BYU’s men’s and women’s teams did exactly that in last week’s regional meet to rest them for the national championships. They still finished second and sixth, respectively.
BYU’s seven entries — all of them Utah high school products — are expected to be three-time All-American Casey Clinger, a junior from American Fork High and an eighth-place finisher in last year’s NCAA championships; Brandon Garnica, a senior from Springville; transfer Christian Allen, a senior from Copper Hills High, who previously finished 14th and 16th in this meet for Weber State; Joey Nokes, a sophomore from Riverton; sophomores Creed and Davin Thompson, identical twins from Skyridge High; and Aidan Troutner, a sophomore from Timpview High.
“We’re a podium team (top four),” says Eyestone. “It’s just a matter of if we’re fourth or we have a really good day and get third or we have a really great day and get second or we have an incredible day and get first.”
The BYU women’s team is headed by two-time All-American Aubrey Frentheway, a senior from Wyoming, who finished 15th in the 2020 NCAA meet, and Lexy Halladay, a sophomore from Boise.
Utah Valley’s Everlyn Kemboi, a senior from Kenya, won the individual championship in the NCAA West Regional.
BYU is one of the country’s powerhouse cross-country programs. The Cougars represent one of four schools ranked in the top 10 of both the men’s and women’s rankings. The BYU men won the NCAA championships in 2019 and the women won it a year later, sandwiched by runner-up finishes. The men have finished among the top seven of the NCAA championships nine times in 11 years.
BYU has won three individual championships in the last two NCAA meets — Conner Mantz in 2020 and 2021 and Whittni Orton in 2021. That gives the men’s program four individual championships, with Eyestone winning in 1984 and Josh Rohatinsky in 2006. All five of those individual championships were won by Utah natives.
The University of Utah women’s team has finished in the top 20 of the NCAA meet three times in the last six years, with a program best of 16th in 2019. The Utes are poised to improve that finish based on a second-place finish in both the Pac-12 championships and the NCAA Mountain Regional. The team is led by Emily Venters, a senior from Kansas and runner-up in the Pac-12 meet, and Simone Plourde, a BYU transfer from Canada.
The top two teams in each of the nine NCAA regional championships automatically qualified for the meet, and 13 additional teams are given at-large invitations. BYU and Utah Valley were awarded at-large berths in the women’s field, and Utah State was given an at-large berth in the men’s race.
The first four individual finishers who are not members of qualifying teams are also invited to the meet. Utah State’s Analee Weaver and Micaela Rivera, who were 16th and 22nd in the women’s NCAA Mountain Regional, received at-large berths in the NCAA meet.
NCAA cross-country rankings
1 — Stanford
2 — BYU
3 — Northern Arizona
4 — Oklahoma State
5 — Air Force
6 — Tulsa
7 — Wake Forest
8 — Wisconsin
9 — Colorado
10 — Syracuse
1 — North Carolina St.
2 — New Mexico
3 — Oklahoma State
4 — Northern Arizona
5 — Notre Dame
6 — BYU
7 — Alabama
8 — Colorado
9 — Utah
10 — Oregon