Editor’s note: Fourth in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: women’s cross-country.

BYU women’s cross-country is the most successful program in Cougars athletics based on the ultimate metric: national titles. The program has five, including the most recent championship won by a BYU team (2020) and the greatest dynasty in department history: a run of titles in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2002. In all, BYU has finished in the top 10 at nationals 24 times, including each of the last five seasons.

The program has been in excellent hands recently under two-time National Coach of the Year Diljeet Taylor. In addition to the national title, BYU has finished national runner-up twice, won five-straight conference championships, and had 15 All-Americans, including 2021 national champion Whittni Orton, since Taylor took over.

Last season, BYU took eighth at nationals and easily won the WCC championship. Three-time All-American Aubrey Frentheway won the WCC individual title and finished 32nd at the NCAA race to lead the way for the Cougars.

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The Cougars have talent this fall but question marks exist. Only two of BYU’s top five runners at the WCC championships and one of BYU’s top four runners at last year’s NCAA championships are on the team this season, with Frentheway and McKenna Lee-Hansen the notable departures.

On the bright side, junior Lexy Halladay-Lowry comes back as the Cougars’ top returner after earning All-America honors in 2022 and finishing fourth at the conference meet.

She’ll be joined by All-WCC juniors Carmen Alder and Anastaysia Davis and 2022 WCC Freshman of the Year Riley Chamberlain.

Big 12 women’s cross-country

West Virginia’s Ceili McCabe has won the last two individual Big 12 crowns, but Oklahoma State finished with six of the race’s top nine finishers to win the team title in 2022. Since 2011, the Cowgirls have won four titles, including each of the last three; Iowa State has won the other eight.

Nationally, the Big 12 has routinely qualified three teams for the NCAA championships in the last decade, with Oklahoma State and Iowa State usually leading the way and West Virginia and Texas making repeat appearances. Last season, Oklahoma State took fourth at the NCAA championships, its highest finish in program history. West Virginia finished 27th and Texas last at 31st.

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Baylor (2016) and Kansas (2015) are the only other schools besides the four previously mentioned that have qualified for nationals since 2011. Cincinnati, Oklahoma, TCU and UCF have never qualified.

How will BYU fare?

Oklahoma State suffered a hit with the loss of Natalie Cook to the transfer portal this offseason; Cook finished a team-best seventh at nationals. But senior All-American Taylor Roe returns after placing 13th at the NCAA championships and second in the Big 12 championships last year. Sophomore Billah Jepkirui, who took third at the Big 12 meet, and Molly Born, who took a year off from cross-country last season, adds to OSU’s strong core.

McCabe, a two-time All-American and two-time Big 12 Runner of the Year, is coming back for a fifth season to pace West Virginia’s bid to win its first Big 12 title. The Mountaineers’ next two finishers at last year’s nationals graduated, but seniors Katherine Dowie, Mikenna Vanderheyden and Jeanne Reix Charat all enter 2023 with lots of experience.

Barring disaster, BYU should return to the NCAA championships in 2023. But like the men’s side, on paper Big 12 women’s cross-country could be a tight race, with the deeper team making the difference. I’ll pick the Cougars to win a close one.

BYU women’s cross-country coach Diljeet Taylor, center, poses with members of the BYU women’s team in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at the NCAA champsionships. | BYU Photo
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