We know that there are some very strong teams out there, but I feel like if we are running on all cylinders, we can win.
PROVO — Five local college cross country teams will compete in the NCAA National Championships on Saturday.
Second-ranked BYU heads into the meet with the best chance of earning a National title in the men’s 10k race. The Cougars’ men’s team earned an automatic bid by placing second in the regional meet, while the BYU women’s team earned an at-large bid after placing third in the Mountain Region Championships.
“We are excited for the prospect of a national championship,” said head coach Ed Eyestone. “This has been the best year in BYU men’s cross country history thus far. I think we ran just hard enough at regional championships to prepare us for big things at nationals.”
The BYU men were runners-up to the defending NCAA champion, Northern Arizona, at the regional contest.
The men’s team has impressive depth with four different runners as the Cougars’ top finisher in key meets. Seven runners will represent BYU in Kentucky — Rory Linkletter, Clayton Young, Connor McMillan, Casey Clinger, Danny Carney, Kramer Morton, and Jonathan Harper. The best finish for the Cougars at an NCAA championship meet is second place. That came in 1993.
Eyestone said this year’s team could make history because the team has such depth.
“We know that there are some very strong teams out there, but I feel like if we are running on all cylinders, we can win,” Eyestone said. “I have supreme confidence in my top-four mixing it up with the best in the country. I know that they have great support from my fifth, sixth and seventh runners. They are the best 5-6-7 in the country. Put that together on a good day and you can do some damage.”
All seven earned All-WCC First Team honors, while Linkletter, McMillan and Morton also earned All-Region honors.
The BYU women are ranked No. 14 in the country after a third-place finish at the Mountain Region Championships. They have seven runners racing on Saturday, as well. They’re led by Laura Young and Courtney Wayment, but include strong contenders in the 6k race, Ashleigh Warner, Olivia Hoj, Kristi Rush, Sara Musselman and Whittni Orton.
"I expect Laura and Courtney to continue to lead the team with Olivia, Ashleigh and Kristi close by," associate head cross-country coach Diljeet Taylor said. "Our top five are doing a great job of staying connected and that will be key in this championship race. Our freshman Sara has been solid and we are excited to watch her compete. Whittni will be running her first cross country race of the season as she had an early season injury and has made a comeback. We are anxious to get her out with the team and see how and where she fits into the group."
The SUU Thunderbirds are the second-highest ranked local team with the men currently ranked No. 19 in the country.
They will be making their fourth consecutive appearance at the NCAA championship on Saturday after finishing sixth in the NCAA Mountain Regional race in Logan. The T-birds are one of 13 teams invited to the meet based on their overall season performance.
Josh Collins led the Thunderbirds with a 13th place finish. Also running at Nationals will be Matthew Wright, Kasey Knevelbaard, Mike Tate, and Aidan Reed.
“When you consider our history, in terms of the whole athletic department, to qualify for the National Championship one time in a career I think is huge,” SUU head coach Eric Houle said. “To go four years in a row is a testimony to the direction the program is going and has been going for the last number of years.”
Houle said the team has a history of running well at nationals and he doesn’t see that changing this weekend.
“It’s a benefit knowing we’ve been on the course before, we hope that the jitters and the excitement of qualifying is now behind them and now they can hopefully treat this just like another race,” he said.
He specifically praised Tate, who will be graduating this year.
“No matter what happens on Saturday, what he has brought to the program and the institution is amazing,” he said. “He has the qualities that every coach looks for in an athlete and he’s given so much that, to me, I want him to go out there and have the best possible race he can have and enjoy his last season in a SUU uniform.”
While Both BYU and SUU are making history, the Utah State Aggies are doing the same. The Aggies have never sent a full team to the NCAA championships and this year they will send two.
Both the men and women received at-large bids after finishing seventh and fourth, respectively.
The women’s team is led by former Park City prep standout Alyssa Snyder who transferred to Utah State last year. She’s won three races for the Aggies. The men are ranked No. 26, while the women are ranked No. 19.
Two individuals from different universities qualified — Utah’s Grayson Murphy and UVU’s Tyson Lambert.
Murphy has finished in the top five of every race she’s competed in this season, and she finished second at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships. Last season was her first at Utah after transferring from Santa Clara, and the West High alum earned a 53rd place finish.
She’s earned USTFCCCA All-Academic honors in both track and cross country, and she’s a civil engineering major.
Lambert, a Grantsville High graduate, becomes the second UVU runner to compete at the National championships. This is the senior’s first trip to the country’s top sport.
He ran a personal best in the Mountain Regional, earning a 24th place finish with a time of 30:55.8 in the 10k race. Additionally, he is the Wolverines first cross country runner to win every race he entered this fall.
The championships will take place at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky, this Saturday. The women's race will begin at 10:45 a.m. ET and the men will follow at 11:45 a.m. ET. Live results can be found here. FloTrack will live stream the race here.