The BYU cross country women find themselves in unfamiliar territory going into the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships on Saturday they are not the conference champs.
After finishing second at the Mountain West Conference Championships two weeks ago the first time in 19 years they have not won the Cougars are looking to flip things on Colorado State, who took the MWC title. The Rams are the top-ranked team in the Mountain Region, followed by Colorado.
But the bigger picture for No. 3-ranked BYU shows that a top-two finish in the race at Schneiter's Riverside Golf Course in Riverdale means an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 19.
The men's 10K race will begin at 11 a.m., followed by the women's 6K race at 12:15 p.m.
With a No. 17 national rank, the Cougars will likely receive one of the other 13 at-large bids to the national championships, but coach Patrick Shane says his team is aiming to win.
"If we are hitting on all cylinders on race day, we're as good as anyone in the region," Shane said.
The Y., which is one of four teams in the region that are nationally ranked, are led by freshman Angela Wagner and sophomore Katie Bowen, both All-MWC first teamers. BYU's Tawny Bybee, Cecily Lemmon, Amber Duffin and Jenna Jensen made the All-MWC second team.
The other nationally-ranked teams in the region are Colorado State (No. 11), Colorado (No. 13) and Northern Arizona (No. 22).
Other teams in the state that will be competing in the race are Weber State (No. 6 Mountain Region), Utah State (No. 9), Utah (No. 10) and Southern Utah (No. 15).
The top-ranked team in the nation is Stanford.
On the men's side, BYU sits at No. 4 in the tough Mountain Region after winning at the Mountain West Conference Championships.
Cougars coach Ed Eyestone knows that his team will have to put together its best race of the season if runners want to continue running at nationals.
"We've got the toughest region in the nation," Eyestone said. "We need to run much better than we did at conference to make it to nationals this year."
BYU, ranked No. 26 in the country, is joined by three teams in the Mountain Region that are nationally ranked. Northern Arizona sits at No. 2, UTEP is No. 3 and Colorado is No. 6.
The Cougars are paced by first team All-MWC runner Chandler Goodwin and Stephan Shay, who has been through some hard times in the last two weeks both on and off the course.
Shay had to pull out of the conference meet with a sore back, but Eyestone said he has recovered well. Then, Shay's older brother, Ryan, collapsed at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last Saturday in New York. He later died at a hospital.
"The team has rallied behind Stephan, and he's coping the best he can considering the situation," Eyestone said. "We gave him the option to run or not to run, and he is choosing to run."
The Cougars' Dustin Bybee and Tyrel Jensen both earned first-team All-MWC honors.
Other Utah teams participating in the race are Weber State (No. 5 Mountain Region), Utah State (No. 9) and Southern Utah (No. 12).Oregon is the top men's team in the nation.