Nate Edwards, BYU Photo
Rory Linkletter wins the men's 10,000m at the NCAA West Prelims to advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, for the second year in a row.

PROVO — BYU returns to the NCAA Track and Field Championships this week in Eugene, Oregon, led by a group of talented distance runners.

A year ago, the Cougars’ Rory Linkletter raced to a second-place finish in the 10,000-meter event. But his teammate, Connor McMillan, has one of the best times in the country in that race this year.

Linkletter and McMillan are two of 15 Cougar athletes who will vie for national titles this week, starting Wednesday, and they are two of four BYU athletes that will compete for the 10,000-meter crown.

BYU holds the NCAA record for the most entries in any single event at an NCAA championship with five decathletes in 1975. This year's four 10,000-meter qualifiers tie for the most single-event entries since ’75. It will also be the second time in NCAA history (since UTEP in 1981) that one school has had four athletes compete in the 10,000-meter final.

“Rory finished runner-up in the 10,000 last year, which was kind of a big surprise to a lot of people,” said coach Ed Eyestone. “Anyone who knows Rory wasn’t too surprised by that. With about 500 meters to go, he was in about seventh place. He finished second last year and he would obviously like to improve on that.

"That was certainly a breakthrough event for him. He had done well before and we always believed it was possible for him. That spring-boarded him to a new level of confidence.”

Linkletter and fellow All-Americans McMillan and Clayton Young, as well as Conner Mantz, will represent BYU in the 10,000 final Wednesday.

Linkletter, McMillan and Young will also run in the 5,000-meter final Friday. “We hope to do well there, too,” Eyestone said.

The 10,000-meter final will take place Wednesday at 8 p.m. MDT on ESPN2. The 5,000-meter final will be held Friday at 8:25 p.m. MDT Friday on ESPN.

McMillan has the No. 2 time in the country this season in the 10,000.

“Connor has a faster time than Rory has. Connor is also excited about a prospect of it being a fast race,” Eyestone said. “With those two guys in, I think we can handle most kinds of race strategies. Both of them are very strong and could run a fast-paced race if it’s from the gun. Connor, like Rory, has a pretty good finish as well.”

Meanwhile, BYU’s Matt Owens and Clayson Shumway will challenge for the steeplechase title and Kevin Nielsen will participate in the decathlon.

On the women’s side, Whittni Orton will compete in the 1,500-meter, while Andrea Stapleton-Johnson (high jump), Alyssa Dalton (100-meter hurdles), Brenna Porter (400-meter hurdles) and Ashton Riner (javelin) will also be representing BYU this week in Oregon. Porter, Ellie Heiden-Quackenbush, Cassidy Pinnock and Lauren Rawlinson will run the 4 x 400 relay.

“Andrea did very well in the West regional. She was the No. 1 in the West. She’s been a consistent, All-American high jumper for us,” Eyestone said. “Her father is the school record holder in the high jump as well. She’s not just following her father’s footsteps, she has her own things to prove.”

A year ago in the regionals, Porter tripped over the first hurdles barrier but continued running despite a serious injury.

“Brenna got up and completed the race not knowing there was a huge gash on her leg,” Eyestone said. “She’s back, she’s healthy and she’s running extremely well.”

Eyestone has high hopes for the women who will be competing this weekend.

“Whittni was sideline with a stress fracture for the first half of the season. We were debating not having her compete and having her redshirt. But she looked good in practices the second half of the year,” he said. “Ashton has started her BYU career in great fashion, qualifying for the NCAA championships. That’s exciting. And the fact that we qualified a women’s 4 x 400, it’s always good to have a relay team here.”

Overall, Eyestone is excited about what his team could accomplish this weekend.

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“It’s exciting for us. Many, if not most, are ranked pretty high in their events. We have the No. 2 times in both the 10,000 and the steeplechase,” he said. “Then we have some other marks in the top six or seven. The likelihood of scoring are pretty good. But when you get the entire country, the best in the country, you realize how difficult it can be. We’re excited for the challenge of that.”

ESPN will televise the NCAA Track and Field Championships on various platforms (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3) Wednesday-Saturday.