For four years Ashton Riner failed to even qualify for the NCAA championships, but on Thursday she returned in a big way. Riner, a senior from Washington, won the javelin to give BYU its first national title of the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Riner threw 191 feet, 1 inch on her first attempt and that held up as the leading mark of the competition. She had entered the meet as the favorite, having thrown a nation-leading (and school record) 198 feet this season. Nebraska’s Maddie Harris was Riner’s closest rival, finishing second with a throw of 189 feet, 3 inches.

“I’m super proud of her,” says BYU throws coach Nik Arrhenius. “The pressure was on her. She came in as No. 1 and everyone was hunting her. She handled the pressure. She came full circle.”

Arrhenius was referring to Riner’s efforts simply to return to nationals. She qualified for the NCAA championships as a freshman in 2018 and placed 11th, but circumstances seemed to conspire against her after that. On the first throw of her sophomore year, she tore the ulnar collateral ligament that runs along the inside of the elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery, as it is famously called. The following season was canceled by the pandemic. Last season she threw a school-record 181 feet, 7 inches, which held up as the fourth farthest throw in the nation for the season, but at the NCAA West Preliminary round she threw only 152-7 and placed 26th, which meant she failed to qualify for the NCAA meet.

“This year we changed our game plan by starting (competition) later and not competing as much,” says Arrhenius.

In late April she smashed her own school record by throwing 198 feet even. “Everyone was hunting her after that,” says her coach. Riner is listed as a senior, but BYU plans to file for a medical hardship to recover the season lost to elbow surgery.

“I’m super proud of her. The pressure was on her. She came in as No. 1 and everyone was hunting her. She handled the pressure. She came full circle.” — says BYU throws coach Nik Arrhenius on Ashton Riner

Since 2003, the BYU women’s team had won only two outdoor national titles – Nachelle Mackie in the 800 in 2012 and Anna Camp-Bennett in the 1,500 in 2021. Now they have claimed national titles in consecutive years with a strong chance of winning another one Saturday when Courtney Wayment competes in the finals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

As expected, Wayment, the heavy pre-race favorite, easily advanced to Saturday’s finals. She ran just fast enough to qualify, finishing fourth in the first of two heats (she was also fourth overall) with a time of 9:41.21. Wayment entered the meet with the fastest time in the nation – 9:26.88, 5 ½ seconds faster than her nearest competitor.

Wayment, a senior from Kaysville, has won three NCAA indoor championships, in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs and the distance medley relay. She finished fourth in last year’s NCAA outdoor championships and fourth in last summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials, one spot short of making the U.S. Olympic team.

Only one final was held on the track at Thursday’s competition – the 10,000-meter run. Utah Valley’s Everlyn Kemboi and Hannah Branch finished 12th and 17th, respectively, in that race with times of 33:41.50 and 33:49.23. BYU’s Aubrey Frentheway was 22nd in 34:31.59.

BYU’s Kenneth Rooks advances to NCAA track and field finals with blazing time

Here’s how the other Utah athletes finished in their events Thursday:

  • Utah’s Josefine Eriksen, a sophomore from Norway, finished 24th in the 800-meter semifinals with a time of 2:09.57. Two weeks ago she set a school record of 2:02.49 to place third in the NCAA West Preliminary race.
  • BYU’s Claire Seymour, who finished second in the 800 at the NCAA indoor championships in March, placed 18th in Thursday’s semifinal with a time of 2:04.91 and did not advance to the finals.
  • Southern Utah’s Elizabeth White, a junior from Las Vegas, finished 15th in the long jump with a leap of 20 feet, 3 inches.
  • BYU’s  Lexy Halladay, a sophomore from Boise, failed to advance to the final, finishing 23rd overall with a time of 10:31.38.
  • Alexis McAllister, a BYU senior, placed 18th in the javelin with a mark of 166 feet, 4 inches.

There was only one men’s event held on Wednesday – the final day of the two-day decathlon. Dallin Vorkink, a BYU junior, finished 11th with 7,592 points.

The men, who competed Wednesday, will conclude their competition on Friday and the women will return to the track Saturday. Kenneth Rooks, a BYU sophomore, is among the favorites heading into the finals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He won his semifinal heat on Wednesday and had the second fastest time overall — 8:24.88, the second fastest time in BYU school history.