Courtney Wayment, BYU’s homegrown distance runner and defending NCAA champion, had a breakthrough season a year ago that has carried over into the current season. Heading into this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, Alabama, she has the fastest time in the nation for 5,000 meters and the second fastest for 3,000 meters.

A year ago Wayment, a senior from Kaysville, won the 3,000 and anchored BYU’s winning distance medley relay at the NCAA championships. She also went on to run the fastest collegiate time in the nation last year in the steeplechase and placed fifth in the U.S. Olympic Trials in that event with a time of 9:23.09, making her the ninth fastest American ever.

Wayment, who will contest both the 3,000 and 5,000 at nationals, will face probably the stiffest competition ever gathered for the NCAA meet. Because the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to compensate for the canceled 2020 season, more athletes are competing in the college ranks. Combine that with controversial advances in shoe technology and you have a perfect storm for great marks across the board.

“This is the most competitive I’ve ever seen in men’s and women’s competition,” says Diljeet Taylor, BYU’s head coach. “Some of it is due to the COVID (extra) year of eligibility, but mostly it’s the shoes. I think we’re seeing a shift in track and field. I don’t think it’s going to go backward.”

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You know something is different when the last athlete to qualify for the men’s mile has run 3:56.60, a time that would have won all but four of the previous NCAA championships. In a normal season, 30-32 collegians run sub four-minute miles indoors; this year it’s 90.

It’s a similar story in all the middle-distance and distance events, which is why Taylor anticipates stiff competition for Wayment. This season 14 women have run under nine minutes for the 3,000; last year it was seven. “There are some sleepers there,” says the coach. “They’ll be bringing in a ton of experience.” On the other hand, Taylor notes, “(Wayment) is in better shape now than last year.”

Wayment flew to the East Coast twice in search of fast races against professional fields. In New York she finished sixth in the Millrose Games 3,000, and did it the hard way, running her last 1,000 one minute faster than the previous 1,000.

“She had a lot left in the tank,” says Taylor.

The competition has also deepened in the 5,000. Last year there were 13 women who broke 16 minutes in the 5,000; this year there are 42, led by Wayment’s national leading time of 15:15.46, which she produced in Boston. Her time is 12 seconds faster than her nearest rival. She had a disappointing race at USA Nationals, where she finished ninth in 9:01.10, but otherwise she has been in top form this year.

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BYU finished a surprising seventh in last year’s NCAA indoor championships despite holding out part of its team to compete in the COVID-delayed NCAA cross-country championships, which were held just two days later — which BYU won. Because Wayment is running both the 3K and 5K she will not be able to anchor BYU’s defending national champion distance medley relay as she did last year.

The DMR will consist of Claire Seymour, Carmen Alder and sisters Kate and Meghan Hunter. The Cougars won last year’s relay with another sister duo — Lauren and Alena Ellsworth (as well as Olivia Hoj-Simister and Wayment). Taylor also believes All-American Claire Seymour — with only the 11th fastest entry time — could deliver a surprise. “I just hope she trusts her natural racing instinct,” says the coach.

Wayment is not the only BYU athlete with a nation-leading mark. Sophomore Zach McWhorter has scaled 19 feet, 2 ¼ inches in the pole vault; only one other collegiate vaulter has topped 19 feet — Princeton’s Sondre Guttormsen (19-1). McWhorter placed second in last year’s NCAA championships. He is one of three BYU vaulters to qualify for the meet, all of whom are coached by Rick McWhorter, Zach’s father and a former BYU vaulter who coaches between shifts as a physician.

BYU’s men’s team will be conspicuously absent from this week’s championships. The Cougars are one of the country’s top distance-running programs (they won the 2020 NCAA cross-country championships), but they didn’t qualify a single athlete for this meet.

Lucas Bons, who stunned the track scene with a 3:55.45 mile as a true freshman last season, lost his season to the double whammy of the COVID-19 virus and mono. All-American Casey Clinger, another sub-four miler, injured an Achilles tendon that sidelined him until a couple of weeks ago. Conner Mantz, the NCAA cross-country champion and track All-American, gave up his eligibility and turned professional. 

Eyestone’s team has only two qualifiers — both pole vaulters — in action this weekend. “Just one of those years,” says the coach. “We’ll be fine during the outdoor season.”


NCAA Indoor Track Championships

Utah qualifiers

BYU

Name — Event — Mark — Rank

Zach McWhorter — Pole vault — 19-2 ¼  — 1st

Courtney Wayment — 5,000 meters — 15:15.46 — 1st

Courtney Wayment — 3,000 meters — 8:50.05 — 2nd

Caleb Witsken — Pole vault — 18-2 ½ — 7th

Cierra Tidwell-Allphin — High jump — 6-1 ¼ — T-8th

Cailee Faulkner — Pole vault — 4.62 m — T-15th

Claire Seymour — 800 meters — 2:04.03 — T-15th

Halley Folsom Walker — Pentathlon — 4,118 pts.   T-11th

Hunter-Hunter — Distance medley relay — 10:58.37 — 11th

Seymour-Alder

Southern Utah

Nate Osterstock — Mile — 3:56.16 — 14th