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Five NCAA champions from BYU are headed to USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

Berth on World Championships team is on the line

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BYU’s Courtney Wayment leads the pack in the steeplechase at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

BYU’s Courtney Wayment leads the pack in the steeplechase event at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, earlier this month. Wayment and a host of other current or former BYU athletes will be competing in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on the same University of Oregon track this weekend.

Nate Edwards

When five current and former collegiate champions from BYU compete in this weekend’s USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, more than a national title will be on the line. The top three finishers will represent the U.S. in the World Track and Field Championships, which will be held a month later on the same track.

Courtney Wayment, Anna Camp Bennett, Whittni Orton Morgan, Ashton Riner and Conner Mantz — each of whom has won NCAA titles during the last 12 months — are headed to Eugene.

Wayment, who won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in last weekend’s NCAA championships in her final collegiate race, will be among the favorites to make the U.S. team. She not only smashed the collegiate record in that race by eight seconds but also became the fifth fastest American ever and the fastest American this year (she is listed with the third fastest entry time headed into nationals because athletes are allowed to submit marks from last year).

Wayment, who signed a contract with Swiss shoe company On Athletics this week, finished fourth in last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials — one spot short of making the U.S. Olympic team. She has dropped her personal best time by seven seconds this year and appeared to do it with relative ease (she said she had two more gears she could have used if needed).

In the week after that victory, she was so bombarded with interview requests that eventually she asked BYU’s sports information department to stop arranging them so she could focus on the USA championships.

“If you text her or call her, she won’t answer,” says her father, Mark, a former All-American steeplechaser for Weber State. “She won’t even text me, and I’m her father!”

In Eugene, Wayment will compete against the two greatest steeplechasers in U.S. history — former world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn and Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs. They have accomplished what was once considered unthinkable by beating the great African runners. Coburn and Frerichs have had a quiet season so far — they finished eighth and ninth, respectively, against an international field in the Prefontaine Classic with times of 9:18.19 and 9:20.96. Frerichs is the American record holder at 8:57.77, set last year, and Coburn is second fastest at 9:02.35, set in 2019.

Mark Wayment believes that last year’s Olympic trials race was a game-changer for his daughter. “She won’t get starstruck,” he says of this week’s race. “She will compete. I don’t think she’ll worry about competing with Emma and Courtney (Frerichs).”

Valerie Constien, who finished third just ahead of Wayment in last summer’s Olympic trials, has a best time of only 9:31.20 this year. Colleen Quigley, eighth-place finisher in the 2016 Olympics, is also in the field. Her best time this year is 9:39.27.

Camp and Orton, who signed contracts with Adidas last year, are also in the mix as they begin their first year as professional athletes.

Along with Wayment and former NCAA 800-meter champion Julie Jenkins, Orton might be the most talented female runner BYU has ever produced, but her collegiate career was hampered by a string of injuries. Between injuries, she smashed a half-dozen school records.

To preserve Orton’s health, BYU women’s coach Diljeet Taylor dramatically curtailed Orton’s racing schedule last fall, and Orton responded by winning the 2021 NCAA cross-country championships in her final college race. She is still training with Taylor as a professional and is running better than ever this year. She covered 1,500 meters in 4:04.86 to finish fourth in the Portland Track Festival, just a step behind the runner-up. That smashed her previous personal record of 4:09.30 and is easily faster than any current or former BYU runner has ever run.

In December she was clocked in 15:09.47 in an indoor 5,000, which cut her P.R. by 3 ½ seconds. She has the ninth-fastest time in the nation in the 1,500 and the 14th fastest at 5,000 meters; she will compete in the longer race at nationals.

“We’re hoping with her 1,500 speed she has a shot for a higher finish in the 5,000 than the 1,500,” says Taylor.

If Orton races patiently — something she has not always done in big races before the breakthrough 2021 NCAA cross-country championships — she could surprise some of the veteran runners. 

Camp, the 2021 NCAA 1,500-meter champion, has rebounded after a so-so indoor season. She won the 1,500 at the Penn Relays with a time of 4:09.54 — one second off her personal best — and she ran a surprising 2:00.60 for 800 meters to place fifth in the Portland Track Festival. That was a huge improvement over her previous P.R. of 2:02.83. She has decided to enter the 800 at USA nationals.

“It’s the event she wanted to race,” says Taylor. “Her confidence is higher in the 800 right now. We will run some 1,500s after USAs … hopefully she can run 4:03 later this summer. …  Whittni just ran 4:04 a few weeks ago and I know Anna is close to that as well. They both are doing well. It should be a good week.”

The U.S. is loaded in the 800, featuring three of the four fastest in U.S. history — Olympic champion Athing Mu and Olympic bronze medalists Raevyn Rogers and Ajee Wilson. Camp has the 19th fastest qualifying time.

Riner won the javelin at the recent NCAA championships, capping her comeback from Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in her elbow. She broke her own school record in April with a throw of 198 feet even. She has the third-farthest throw heading into this week’s USA championships.

Mantz won the 2020 and 2021 NCAA cross-country championships before signing with Nike. His best distance is the 10,000 (eventually it will be the marathon). The U.S. trials for the world championship team were actually held at the Prefontaine Classic in late May to give runners more time to recover for the world meet in mid-July. Mantz finished eighth in that race, so he will try to make the team in the 5,000, where he has the eighth-fastest entry time, a superb 13:10.24.

With the addition of Claire Seymour, runner-up at 800 meters in the NCAA indoor championships, this is perhaps the most accomplished group of athletes BYU has ever sent to the USA championships.


Cougars in Eugene

Current and former BYU athletes who qualified for this week’s USA Outdoor National Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

Women

Athlete — Event — Mark — Rank

Anna Camp Bennett — 800 meters — 2:00.60 — 15th

Lauren Ellsworth Barnes — 800 meters — 2:01.72 — 24th

Whittni Orton Morgan — 5,000 meters — 15:09.47 — 13th

Courtney Wayment — Steeplechase — 9:16.00 — 3rd

Ashton Riner — Javelin — 198-0 — 4th 

Alex McAllister — Javelin — 171-5 — 17th

Men

Athlete — Event — Mark — Rank

Sebastian Fernandez — 800 meters — 1:47.03 — 25th

Casey Clinger — 5,000 meters — 13:23.33 — 22nd

Conner Mantz — 5,000 meters — 13:10.24 — 10th

Kenneth Rooks — Steeplechase — 8:22.56 — 11th

Garrett Marsing — Steeplechase — 8:31.54 — 24th

Zach McWhorter — Pole vault — 19-2 — 4th

Michael Whittaker — Javelin — 225-5 — 16th

Dallin Shurts — Discus — 200-5 — 11th

For schedule of events, click here.

BYU distance runner Conner Mantz poses at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

BYU distance runner Conner Mantz poses at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Correction: The original version of this article stated Conner Mantz signed with Adidas when turning pro, but he actually signed with Nike.