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BYU cross-country: Nine female runners will compete at the West Coast Conference Championships

By Steven Tew

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23 2012 5:59 p.m. MDT

PROVO, Utah – Nine runners on the women’s cross-country team will represent BYU this Saturday at the West Coast Conference Championships in Portland, Ore., with the hopes of bringing home the WCC title.

“Going into the conference championships, we never know how it’s all going to turn out as far as the competition is concerned,” head coach Patrick Shane said. “There may be runners at some schools who haven’t competed yet because of injuries that could surprise us. However, we had a team meeting this week and figured out a game plan so when Saturday arrives, we will be prepared. ”

According to Shane, none of the runners on the women’s team have reached their maximum potential yet but have focused on pacing themselves in order to peak at the right point during the season.

“All season long, we have talked about conserving our energy and running below our potential,” Shane said. “Our goal is to max out when it matters most, so that we have a shot at the title. This weekend is when it all begins.”

Among the nine runners representing the Cougars this weekend are freshman Natalie Shields, senior Michaelanne Laurent, junior Lindsey Sowards Nielson and senior Kathryn Vidmar. Each of these runners have contributed to the team’s success, but each plays a slightly different role.

Shields, who finished 54th in Wisconsin and sixth in Toledo, is among the favorites to win the WCC title, despite her lack of experience in collegiate competition. She will run head-to-head against fellow freshman Elena Burkhard from San Francisco as a main competitor. In Wisconsin, Shields finished two spots behind Burkhard, but in Toledo Shields finished one spot ahead.

“Even in the two races Natalie has competed in, it is evident she has taken a role as a top runner on our team,” Shane said. “She and Elena Burkhard are two strong freshman aligned in the same conference that will both make Saturday’s race tough and exciting for everyone.”

Laurent, who finished 88th in Wisconsin and 31st in Toledo, has consistently maintained the No. 2 spot for the Cougars throughout the season. To her coaches and teammates, Laurent is steady and a leader.

“Throughout her career at BYU, she has improved every year,” Shane said. “She hasn’t competed as much this year as in the past, but she has still competed at her best. Because of her consistency, I know she will have a great race this weekend.”

Neilson, who finished 148th in Wisconsin and 32nd in Toledo, could surprise other teams and coaches because of the continual improvements she has made throughout the season.

“Lindsey’s confidence is growing with every workout,” Shane said. “She is ready to have a breakout race, and people are going to be surprised by her performance.”

Vidmar, who finished 155th in Wisconsin and 71st in Louisville, has provided her team with inspiration throughout the season, due to her determination to compete as one of the top-five runners.

“Kathryn is a Cinderella story,” Shane said. “She came to me at the beginning of the season and told me she wanted to compete in the final seven races. ‘I know I can do it,’ she said. To see her follow through on that goal has been inspiring to her team and to me. She is ready for this weekend and will make the most of it.”

Other Cougars ready to race this weekend include Sarah Darby, Andrea Nelson Harrison, Rachel Stewart, Ashleigh Warner and Laura Young.

Heading into the conference championships, the Cougars come off a 24th-place finish at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, a 14th-place finish at the Greater Louisville Invitational and a sixth-place finish at the Toledo Bubble Buster.

The women’s race at the WCC Championships is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. PT at Fernhill Park.

Live results and race information can be found at the WCC Championship Central homepage.

Steven Tew is an SID at BYU Athletic Communications. He can be contacted at wtrack_sid@byu.edu,

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