The steeplechase, that odd 71⁄2 lap race around the track over wooden barriers and water pits, has been a gold mine for BYU’s track and field program over the years, and this year is no exception.
Ten steeplechasers — five men, five women — will be among the huge contingent of BYU athletes who qualified for this week’s West Preliminary, the most qualifiers from any school. Two of them are ranked among the favorites.
BYU has produced six NCAA champions in the steeplechase, including three men — Bob Richards in 1966, Josh McAdams 2006 (who competed in the Olympics two years later) and Kyle Perry 2009 — and three women — Elizabeth Jackson 2001, Michaela Mannova 2002, and Kassi Anderson 2003 (BYU’s greatest steeplechaser, Henry Marsh, never won an NCAA title, but did set American records and run in four Olympic Games). The Cougars also have produced 32 All-Americans in the steeplechase during the 2000s — 17 men, 15 women.
“The steeplechase has been an excellent event for BYU,” says head coach Ed Eyestone. “It’s a good event for us because you can take good talent and, with a lot of drill work and technical practice, you can beat great talent that hasn’t done the technical work. And when you get a great talent who does the technical work then you get Josh McAdams, Kyle Perry and this year Courtney Wayment and Kenneth Rooks.”
Wayment, a senior from Kaysville, ranks No. 1 in the nation. Her season-best time of 9:26.88 is nearly six seconds faster than her nearest competitor and makes her the third fastest collegian in history (she recorded a time of 9:23.09 to place fourth in last summer’s Olympic Trials, making her the 10th fastest American ever, but it doesn’t count as a collegiate mark because it came after the NCAA season was finished). Wayment, a three-time NCAA indoor champion, has to be the favorite to win the steeplechase at the NCAA championships.
On the men’s side, Rooks, a freshman who is less than a year removed from a church mission, has been one of the surprises of the season. He ranks fourth in the nation in the steeplechase with a time of 8:31.19.
The top 48 athletes in each event advance to either the West or East preliminary meets; the top 12 in the preliminary meets advance to the NCAA championships June 8-11 in Eugene, Oregon. The Cougars qualified 62 male and female athletes for the West Preliminary, which will be held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 25-28, making them one of the biggest contingents in the meet.
Two BYU athletes rank No. 1 in the nation. Besides Wayment, there is Ashton Riner, who has the farthest collegiate javelin throw in the country. Her throw of 198 feet broke her own school record and is 23 feet farther than any other throw in school history (besides her own). She figures to be challenged at nationals by North Carolina’s Madison Wiltrout, who is only 13 inches behind her.
Pole vaulter Zach McWhorter, who has placed second in the last two NCAA indoor championships, ranks second this outdoor season with a mark of 18-10 ¾. He cleared 19-2 ¼ indoors. Clayton Fritsch of Sam Houston has the nation’s best mark at 19-0 ¼.
“We have a lot of entries who are ranked in the top 12, which is what it takes to advance to nationals,” says Eyestone. “Some more will rise up, I am sure.”
Cougars at a glance
BYU’s top-ranked track and field athletes headed into this week’s NCAA preliminary meet. The top 12 in that meet will qualify for the NCAA Track and Field Championships June 8-11 in Eugene, Oregon.
Athlete — Event — Mark — National rank
Ashton Riner — Javelin — 98-0 — No. 1
Courtney Wayment — Steeplechase — 9:26.88 — No. 1
Zach McWhorter — Pole vault — 18-10 ¾ — No. 2
Kenneth Rooks — Steeplechase — 8:31.19 — No. 4
Anastaysia Davis — Mile — 4:56.25 — No. 4
Lauren Ellsworth — 800 — 2:01.72 — No. 5
Aubrey Frentheway — Mile — 4:56.50 — No. 5
Caleb Witsken — Pole vault — 18-2 ¾ — No. 6
Casey Clinger — 5,000 — 13:23.33 — No. 6
Sebastian Fernandez — 800 — 1:46.51 — No. 7
Dallin Shurts — Discus — 200-5 — No. 10
Courtney Wayment — 1,500 — 4:12.81 — No. 10
Dallin Vorkink — Decathlon — 7,894 — No. 11
Lauren Ellsworth — 1,500 — 4:13.60 — No. 13
Halley Folsom — Heptathlon — 5,699 — No. 14
Casey Clinger — 10,000 — 28:16.15 — No. 15
Colten Yardley — 400 hurdles — 49.83 — No. 15