PROVO, Utah – Led by junior co-captain Jared Ward, the No. 7 BYU men’s cross-country team finished second behind No. 18 Northern Arizona at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, earning an automatic bid to next week’s national championship race.

“We did exactly what we needed to,” head coach Ed Eyestone said. “We had two goals going into the regional race and that was to advance and to save some juice for next week, and we were able to do that.”

Ward placed third overall with a time of 30:06.3, finishing behind Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka, who took the individual crown, and Anthony Rotich from UTEP, who took second. Tylor Thatcher finished ninth overall and second for the Cougars with a time of 30:17.3.

The other scoring runners for BYU were Rex Shields (30:31.4), Jason Witt (30:43.8) and Conner Peloquin (30:46.9), who finished 15th, 20th and 21st, respectively, overall. Curtis Carr (31:01.8) and Erik Harris (31:03.7) finished 32nd and 33rd overall and rounded out the sixth and seventh spots for the Cougars.

BYU finished with a team score of 68, eight points behind NAU and one point ahead of No. 2 Colorado. It’s the second race in a row where BYU has faced a one-point differential, having lost the West Coast Conference Championship to Portland two weeks ago.

“It was nice to be on the right side of a one-point finish,” Eyestone said. “Jared and Tylor had nice performances and Rex showed what he’s capable of. It just shows how talented Rex is that he was running on a sore foot and getting conditioned and still finished third for us.”

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Shields, who missed the last two races with illness and minor injury, returned to the team in time to get one last race in before the national championship meet next week. As a junior last year, Shields finished 22nd overall at the national championship race as the Cougars earned a spot on the podium with a fourth place team finish.

The NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championships take place Saturday, Nov. 17, at Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kent. For more information, visit the official meet page.

Mason Porter is a Sports Information Director for BYU Athletic Communications. Contact him at