Utah runners claimed the top two places in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships 10,000-meter race Thursday night in Austin, Texas.

Everlyn Kemboi, the senior from Utah Valley University and Kenya, was first, giving the school its first NCAA championship. The University of Utah’s Emily Venters was second, giving the school its highest place ever in a national championships. Still another Utahn, BYU’s Aubrey Frentheway, finished 10th.

Kemboi finished with a time of 32:39.08, Venters 32:47.70. Mercy Chelangat, the defending NCAA champion and Kemboi’s countrywoman, was third in 32:49.62. Frentheway clocked 33:45.29.

It was a war of attrition. With 12 laps to go — about the halfway point of the race — Venters grew impatient with the slow tactical pace and crush of bodies and moved to the front, taking over the lead, with Kemobi moving to her shoulder. Venters pushed the pace and led a breakaway with eight women following, including Fretheway. A few laps later, Chelangat took the lead, with Kemboi, Venters and Frentheway in tow.

Eventually, the pace became too much and the nine-woman pack turned into five, with Kemboi in front, Venters on the back and Fretheway falling out. With two laps to go, kemboi made a bold move and hammered the pace again, pulling away from all comers. Kemboi, throwing down a 69-second lap, continued to widen her lead, from 20 meters to 30 to 40. Kemboi covered the last mile of the 6.2-mile race in 4:51.

“I’ve been praying so hard just to be here and represent,” Kemboi told ESPN afterward. “I really wanted to win the NCAAs some time. It’s unbelievable to win today. I wasn’t even expected this.”

Kemboi transferred to UVU from Arizona in 2021 and didn’t even earn a spot on the traveling squad until the last meet of the season. She placed no better than 19th in last fall’s NCAA cross-country championships, which included many of the women she met in Thursday’s race on the track. Later this month she will return to Kenya for the first time in five years. She plans to become a nurse and pursue a professional running career.

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Venters defeated Kemboi in a 1-2 finish at the Stanford Invitational in April, producing times that will stand as the fastest and third fastest in the nation.

Other than the 10,000, the first day of the women’s competition Thursday consisted of semifinals on the track and finals in a handful of field events, plus the final day of competition for the men’s decathlon.

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BYU’s Ben Barton moved from ninth to eighth in the final event of the decathlon, the 1,500-meter run, to give BYU one point in the team race. He finished with a personal record of 7,815 points, the sixth best score in school history. Barton had a strong first day, but he struggled on the second day, finishing 18th in both the discus and pole vault. His best scores came in the 100-meter dash (10.74), the 400-meter dash (46.88) and the 110-meter high hurdles (14.22).

Barton’s performance put BYU in eighth place in the team race heading into Friday’s final day of competition with two more chances to score big. Casey Clinger, who placed third in the 10,000-meter run Wednesday night, will race in the 5,000-meter final Friday. Teammate Kenneth Rooks will compete in the finals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which is expected to be a showdown between Montana’s Duncan Hamilton and Rooks. They have the top two fastest times in the world.

The big surprise of the women’s competition for local athletes was the performance of BYU’s Meghan Hunter, a junior from Provo who finished fifth overall in the 800-meter semifinals with a time of 2:01.53 — a huge 2 1/2-second personal record and the fifth fastest time in BYU history. Her previous best time of 2:04.27 was set in 2021. She finished just behind teammate and school record holder Claire Seymour, who claimed the fourth fastest time of the semis, 2:01.24.

Hunter barely qualified for these championships, placing 11th overall in the West Region two weeks ago with a time of 2:05.35, her best time in two years. Hunter was one of the most prized high school recruits in the country at Provo High, but shortly after graduating in 2019 she was in a rollover car accident that left her with a broken neck and a damaged psyche (she says she has suffered from PTSD). It has taken her time to regain form, but on Thursday night she ran the best race of her life.

The 800 is one of the deepest events in the meet. The top six women ran under 2:02 and the top 11 broke 2:03.

The other big surprises of the night for local athletes were the performances of BYU’s Ashton Riner and Utah’s Simone Plourde.

Riner, the defending NCAA champion in the javelin, threw 182 feet 3 inches in the West Region (and a school record 198 feet last season), but on Thursday her best throw was 167-4, good for 16th overall.

Plourde entered the meet with the third fastest time in the nation in the 1,500-meter run this season, a school-record 4:08.70, but she failed to advance to Saturday’s finals. With about 800 meters to go in the semifinals, Plourde made a big move off the back of the pack and sat on the leaders — North Carolina State phenom Kately Tuohy and Washington’s Sophie O’Sullivans. They ran stride for stride until Plourde fell off the pace with 250 meters to go. She continued to fade and finished eighth in her heat and ninth overall. Her time of 4:11.91 was five to six seconds faster than five of the women who advanced to the final from the second heat (the top five in each heat automatically qualify). Plourde will return Saturday to run in the 5,000 meters, where she also owns the nation’s third fastest time.

As expected, BYU’s Lexy Halladay advanced to Saturday’s final of the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She finished with the third fastest time overall in the semifinals, 9:42.35, just short of her personal record and six seconds faster than the next fastest time.

BYU’s 4 x 100 relay team of Adaobi Tabugbo, Marianne Barber, Dolita Shaw and Jaslyn Gardner finished seventh in its heat and 20th overall with a time of 44.60 — which was considerably slower than the 43.84 school record they ran in the region meet. Texas set a collegiate record of 41.55 in the semifinals.

BYU’s 4 x 400 relay team finished seventh in the second heat (22nd overall) with a time of 3:39.56 and did not advance to the final.

Utah’s Dinedye Denis finished 18th overall in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles and did not advance to the finals.

The women will return for their final day of competition on Saturday.

FILE — University of Utah runner Emily Venters has the fastest time in the nation this season in the 10,000-meter run at 31:48.35. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News