SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Sophomore Natalie Shields led the No. 28 BYU women’s cross-country team to a fourth place finish at the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday.
The Cougars outperformed four top 30 opponents including No. 4 Duke, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 20 Butler and No. 30 Princeton. No. 1 Florida State won the meet, followed by No. 15 New Mexico and West Coast Conference rival No. 24 San Francisco in third. There were 198 women from 24 schools in the scored 5K race.
“We exceeded expectations today in every way,” BYU head coach Patrick Shane said. “(Natalie) Shields had the best race she has ever had as a BYU athlete and to finish fourth here was a testament to the girls’ willingness to believe that they can run with anyone.”
Shields came in 15th place overall and was the first runner from BYU over the finish line with a time of 17:27.92. Coming in 31st place with a time of 17:44.33 was Nicole Nielsen for BYU. Teammate Andrea Nelson Harrison ran a time of 17:48.18 and was close behind Nielsen at 37th place. Cougar Sarah Yingling earned 43rd place with a time of 17:52.80 and Makenna Smith brought in the top five with a time of 18:05.37 and 61st place.
“This was a big day for our team and we raced together. Our focus has been on finding each other in the race to race together and we did that,” Shields said. “This meet made us all really excited and we have made huge improvements since last year.”
BYU lost key runner Lindsey Sowards Nielson in the first 300 meters of the race due to congestion on the course in a tight curve, causing at least a dozen girls to fall, some landing on top of Nielson. Nielson lost precious seconds and her place in the race before even running a quarter of a mile. The shock of the pile up and the time lost made it impossible for Nielson to recover. Cougar runners Smith and Rachel Stewart saw the opportunity to step up early on and recover Nielson’s position for BYU.
“I can’t say enough about Smith and her doing what she needed to do,” Shane said. “Smith and Stewart picked up the slack when a teammate went down. They did that and it really helped us. This race was a group effort.”
The squad was only one place behind conference rival San Francisco, but BYU had earned 187 points, while San Francisco had only scored 96.
“San Francisco is a really good team and we were close behind them today,” Shields said. “But we will be able to improve more over the next month and see them again at the conference meet.”
BYU’s next meet will be Oct. 19 at Wisconsin, where more than 50 schools are anticipated to compete.