Just moments before stepping onto the track for the start of the women’s mile in the NCAA indoor track championships Saturday evening, BYU’s Courtney Wayment paused a moment and then told her coach Diljeet Taylor, “I’m going to win this thing, and I’m going to do this for you.” Later, she would say, “I had never said I was going to win the NCAAs. I needed to say it out loud.”
And so she did, and then did it. Wayment, a senior from Davis High School, won the 3,000-meter run, passing Arkansas’s Lauren Gregory with 400 meters to go and holding the lead to the finish. Her time was 9:01.47, Gregory’s 9:01.67.
It put an exclamation point on two days of brilliant running by Wayment, who 24 hours earlier rallied BYU’s distance medley relay team from second place to first, crossing the line more than four seconds ahead of the field. They are the first national track and field championships won by BYU women since 2012.
Wayment’s victory served further notice that the “Taylor-made” runners at BYU — as they have called themselves and once had placed on a beanie — are a force in college running circles. Taylor’s cross-country team is ranked No. 2 in the nation and will compete in Monday’s NCAA cross-country championships in Stillwater, Okla. They finished second the last time those championships were held, in 2019.
Before she flew out of Fayetteville, Ark., to Stillwater for Act II of BYU’s championship bids, Taylor celebrated the results of the track meet with her team, which finished seventh without scoring a single point in the sprints or field events. All 29 of their points came from Taylor’s distance and middle distance runners.
“It’s historic,” Taylor said. “Twenty-nine points for BYU. Seventh in the nation. It’s hard with one event group. These women are to be congratulated.”
This is how BYU scored its points:
— The team of Lauren and Alena Ellsworth, Olivia Simister and Wayment won the distance medley relay team Friday with the second fastest time in NCAA history.
— Kate Hunter, a senior from Provo, was fifth in the mile with a time of 4:37.65 (Heather Hanson was 10th in 4:48.97).
— Claire Seymour, a junior from California, was fifth in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:02.25. The race was won by Baylor’s Aaliyah Miller in 2:00.69.
— Wayment won the 3,000-meter run while teammate Olivia Simister, a senior from Salt Lake City, placed seventh in 9:06.77.
None of BYU’s aforementioned distance runners had any remaining cross-country eligibility so there were no hard decisions to be made about whether to send them to the national indoor championships or save their legs for the national cross-country championships, which the NCAA mysteriously scheduled just two days later.
But that was the dilemma BYU men’s coach Ed Eyestone faced. He decided not to enter his distance runners in the track meet — even though several of them were among the nation’s best — because there wasn’t enough rest. He will concentrate his team’s resources on the cross-country meet, where the Cougars are the defending national champions.
BYU entered only three athletes in the men’s track and field championships; two of them scored, giving BYU 11 points for a 16th-place tie in the team standings.
— Sophomore Zach McWhorter finished second in the pole vault with a mark of 19 feet, ¼ inch, breaking his own school record of 18-10 ¾ set earlier this year. That mark also set the unofficial world record for left-handed vaulters. Teammate Caleb Witsken, a converted decathlete, was sixth with a vault of 18 feet, ½ inch. The event was won by Baylor’s collegiate record holder, KC Lightfoot, with a leap of 19-5 ½.
— Freshman Lucas Bons, who stunned track aficionados with a 3:55.45 mile in Seattle earlier this year — a 14-second improvement on his previous best — finished ninth in the mile with a time of 4:01.97. Oregon’s Cole Hocker won with a meet-record time of 3:53.71.
Maybe no one introduced herself to the track world more than Wayment. She has had a tremendous senior season, producing times in the mile and 3,000 that still stand as the fastest collegiate times in the nation this year. Taylor nonetheless elected not to enter Wayment in the mile to ensure that she would be fresh for the DMR and the 3,000.
In Wayment’s absence, the mile was won by Colorado’s Sage Hurta with a time of 4:30.58. Wayment ran 4:30.47 earlier this year.
“I was confident she could kick. I was very calm. I knew she was the fastest girl in the field.” — BYU coach Diljeet Taylor on Courtney Wayment
Back at the team hotel, after winning the DMR, Wayment texted Taylor to say that she was nervous for the next day’s 3,000. Taylor assured her and told her to believe in herself and the process they had endured to get there. “When it hurts,” she added, “do it for me.” Says Wayment, “My best shot was to make sure I was one with Coach Taylor — that means I was going to do every single thing that she said.”
And what Taylor said was to sit and kick in the race — run from behind and kick with 450 meters to go in the 15-lap race. So she tucked in behind Gregory once the race began, but she was chomping at the bit like a frisky colt. Despite the pre-race game plan, she wanted to pass Gregory after only one lap.
Each lap she made eye contact with Taylor standing beside the track and pointed ahead with her finger — “I was asking, ‘Can I go?’” Wayment would say later, meaning could she pass Gregory yet. Each time Taylor signaled to her to stay where she was.
“I looked at her every lap; I needed to look at her,” says Wayment. “It sounds funny but it was as if she was running with me telling me what to do.”
Lap after lap, Taylor forced Wayment to bide her time and be patient, and finally, Wayment struck with 400 meters to go, moving into the lead. Did Taylor give her the signal to go? “I think so,” said Wayment, uncertainly. On the last lap she didn’t bother making eye contact with her coach. There was no point. By then she was in the lead and confident she would not relinquish it.
Despite the fact that Wayment was running her second mile in two nights, Taylor was certain her runner would not wilt on the last lap.
“We had done a lot of practice in meets doubling on back-to-back nights,” said the coach. “I was confident she could kick. I was very calm. I knew she was the fastest girl in the field.”
By the end of the national championships, everyone else knew it, too.