As has become its habit, BYU fields not one but two of the nation’s top cross-country programs. Both the men’s and the women’s teams rank No. 3 in the national polls heading into Saturday’s NCAA cross-country championships in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“They’re very good. Our theme is to finish on the podium and that is still dang good. That’s our goal. The top four is podium — like the Final Four.” — BYU coach Ed Eyestone on his men’s team
As is the case at every school, football and basketball fill arenas and pay the bills at BYU, but those aren’t the sports in which the school excels the most. Running is what BYU athletes do best. It’s a reflection of the state in which they are based. To wit:
• Since 2019, BYU’s cross-country program has won two national championships — one for the men, one for the women — and finished second three times, using predominantly Utah natives. During that time, BYU distance runners have won four individual championships on the track — Anna Camp, Courtney Wayment, Clayton Young and Kenneth Rooks — and three individual cross-country championships — Conner Mantz (2) and Whittni Orton. Of the six aforementioned athletes, five are Utah high school products. When BYU’s men placed third in last year’s NCAA championships, all seven of their runners were from Utah.
• Along with BYU, Utah and Utah Valley are also nationally ranked at the moment, and Utah State, Weber State and Southern Utah have made regular appearances in the national polls in recent years.
• Last spring, BYU’s men won the NCAA Program of the Year Award, which honors the school that collects the most combined points in the national championships for cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track.
• Besides winning the steeplechase at the NCAA championships, Rooks won the U.S. championships.
• Mantz and Young, both native Utahns, are the two fastest marathoners in America this year, producing the fourth- and seventh-fastest American marathon times ever. Jared Ward, another Utah high school and BYU product, placed sixth in the 2016 Olympic marathon.
• Danny Simmons of American Fork is the No. 1-ranked high school distance runner in the nation and last year was named the Gatorade Boys National Boys Cross-Country Athlete of the Year. Casey Clinger, also from American Fork, won the same award six years ago. Clinger competes for BYU and Simmons will join BYU next fall.
• American Fork and Herriman high schools rank 1-2 in the national high school cross-country rankings.
• Last weekend, Salt Lake Community College won the women’s National Junior College Cross-Country Championships and finished a close second in the men’s race.
By finishing in the top two of the regional competition last week, both BYU teams automatically qualified for the NCAA championships. On Sunday, the NCAA announced at-large selections, which included two in-state women’s teams — No. 20 Utah and No. 22 Utah Valley.
The BYU men’s team will be chasing No. 1-ranked Northern Arizona and No. 2 Oklahoma State. Both schools tied for the national championship last year and they return even stronger teams this season.
“They’re very good,” says BYU coach Ed Eyestone. “Our theme is to finish on the podium and that is still dang good. That’s our goal. The top four is podium — like the Final Four.”
The women’s team also will also be chasing No. 1-ranked Northern Arizona and defending champion, No. 2-ranked North Carolina State, which returns Katelyn Tuohy, the record-setting defending individual champion.
The BYU men’s team will consist of Creed Thompson, Joey Nokes, James Corrigan, Kenneth Rooks, Lucas Bons, Aidan Troutner and Isaac Hedengren. Four of them are native Utahns.
The BYU women’s team, which claimed the school’s first (and, so far, only) Big 12 championship three weeks ago, will consist of Carmen Alder, Aubrey Frentheway, Lexy Halladay, Carlee Hansen, Anastaysia Davis, Jacey Farmer and Taylor Rohatinsky.
“Our women are under-ranked,” says Eyestone. “They have a chance to sneak in for a top-two finish.”
The women’s team was ranked No. 7 when the season began, then moved to No. 6 for the next three weeks before advancing to No. 4 for a week and then to the current No. 3 ranking.
“Our women are under-ranked. They have a chance to sneak in for a top-two finish.” — BYU coach Ed Eyestone on the Cougars’ women’s team
The Cougars have competed in five competitions and won four of them. They finished first in the Autumn Classic in Provo, taking the first five places with Jenna Hutchins outleaning teammate Carmen Alder for the individual win.
They finished first in the 14-team Bill Dellinger Invitational in Oregon, beating runner-up Oregon handily, 42-78, with Lexy Halladay, Aubrey Frentheway and Jenna Hutchins finishing 4-5-8. They won the pre-national meet in Charlottesville, by a rout, besting runner-up Arkansas 32-90, with Alder winning the individual race.
They also won the Big 12 championships, placing all seven runners in the top 14. They finished second in the NCAA Mountain Regional behind No. 1-ranked Northern Arizona, 39-59, with a 4-5-9 finish from Alder, Frentheway and Halladay.
The men’s team has been ranked No. 3 in the national polls the entire season. The Cougars have competed in five competitions this season and finished second four times, either to Northern Arizona or Oklahoma State. Those teams tied for the national championship a year ago.
BYU’s recent finishes in
NCAA XC championships
Year — Men — Women
2022 — 3rd — 8th
2021 — 7th — 2nd
2020 — 7th — 1st
2019 — 1st — 2nd
2018 — 2nd — 10th
2017 — 3rd — 7th
2016 — 7th — 10th
The Cougars won the Autumn Classic with Nokes, Thompson and Corrigan finishing 1-2-4. They finished second behind Northern Arizona in the Virginia Invitational in a deep 23-team field, placing five runners in the top 30 behind Nokes’ fourth-place finish.
They finished second again behind Northern Arizona in the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin (considered to be the “pre-national” meet) with Thompson and Nokes finishing 10th and 13th. They placed second to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championships behind Thompson’s and Nokes’ 3-6 finish. They finished second to Northern Arizona once again in the NCAA Mountain Regional while resting a couple of their top runners, with Corrigan the top finisher in 12th.
Rooks placed 16th in that meet and this week’s national championship will likely be his final collegiate competition. He is competing in cross-country after a long and sensational track season in which he won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in both the NCAA and U.S. national championships and went on to place 10th in the world track championships in late August.
Rooks postponed joining the professional ranks to compete in one more cross-country season for BYU; he probably will turn pro and end his collegiate career after this week’s competition. He has been adapting to the 10,000-meter cross-country distance. It’s a work in progress, but, according to Eyestone, he passed more than 40 runners in the final 2,000 meters of the Nuttycombe competition and then did nearly the same thing in the conference championships.
Eyestone would like to see him “spread out that effort over the (entire) course of the race.”
The BYU teams, without a contender for the individual title, will try to continue their recent success in this meet with depth. Neither team has finished outside of the top 10 since 2015.