BYU Men's Cross Country Team
After a somewhat disappointing end to the 1998 season--which saw the Cougars send just one runner to the NCAA Cross Country Championships--BYU looked to rebound with a strong performance in the inaugural season of Mountain West Conference competition in 1999. The Cougar men had won back-to-back conference championships on their way out of the WAC, and with three of the top five runners returning from the '98 team the prospects of taking the MWC title looked good.
Returning from the previous campaign were seniors Matt Poulsen and Randon Richards and junior Trevor Pettingill. All three had big meet experience as well, competing in the WAC Championships and the NCAA District meet. But the Cougars would need at least two more runners to step up if they would be competitive over the course of the season.
Senior Marc Lawson rejoined the team after recovering from injuries that kept him out for an entire season. Freshmen David Danley and Nicholas McCombs, two of the top Utah prep harriers, looked to make a strong showing in their first collegiate season. But the big boost the Cougars needed came from sophomore John Hedengren.
Just twelve months removed from a redshirt season in 1998, Hedengren made a strong showing in only his second cross country season. He was the first Cougar to cross the finish line in every race except one.
In the opening meet of the season, Hedengren led BYU to a second-place finish behind national powerhouse Stanford in the first-ever BYU Triple Crown. The Cardinal just missed a perfect score by one place, capturing the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 positions. Hedengren crossed the line in 9th place at 20:06.1 for the four-mile course. Teammates Dula Parkinson (20:07.7) and Randon Richards (20:08.0) were right on his heels, finishing in 10th and 11th place, and Lawson (20:23.2) and Pettingill (20:35.8) were not far behind.
From there the team traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the Roy Griak Invitational. In a field of 28 teams, they once again found themselves in the runner-up position. Hedengren finish in seventh place (24:32), followed by Richards (12), Lawson (19), Poulsen (20) and Danley (75).
The Pre-National Invitational in Bloomington, Indiana offered the Cougars a chance to prove they could compete against the best teams in the country. Running in a strong field of 35 teams, BYU finished in 8th place. The team was starting to come together, and, more importantly, the Cougars were gaining momentum heading into the big meets.
The first-ever Mountain West Conference Cross Country Championship meet was run at the East Bay Golf Course in Provo, and BYU looked to take advantage of running at home. Before the men's race however, the BYU women's team would prove to be a hard act to follow. They swept the race, taking the top five positions to record a perfect score of 15. Although the men would not quite match that feat, they did put on an impressive show of their own.
Hedengren once again led the way for the Cougars, finishing first on the team for the fourth straight meet. He covered the 8K course in 24:38.3, just edging out Colorado State All-American Bryan Berryhill (24:39.4). After Berryhill, two Utah runners would cross the line before another Cougar came through. But Richards (25:11.4) and Lawson (25:25.6) finished just ahead of Air Force's top two runners to help secure the victory over the second-place Falcons. Junior Nathan Harrison (25:53.2) and Poulsen (25:55.1) wrapped up the scoring for BYU.
With the win, Hedengren earned the Conference Athlete of the Year distinction. He was also named to the MWC first team, along with Richards and Lawson. Danley, Poulsen, and Harrison were named to the second team.
The final stop on the road to the NCAA Championships was the Mountain Regional meet in Fort Collins, Colorado. Going into the meet, the Cougar men were ranked 12th in the national polls. But they would still need a strong performance to avoid being left out of the NCAAs.
With a solid team effort, the Cougars placed all five of their scorers in the top 30, giving them a 3rd-place finish. Hedengren crossed the line in 4th place overall with a time of 30:24.03 for the 10K course. He was followed by Richards (31:12.67), Parkinson (31:35.92), Lawson (31:40.71) and Danley (31:48.33). This time the team would not be denied the opportunity to compete in the national championships.
Making it back to the NCAA meet for the first time since 1995 was a major accomplishment for the men's program. Unfortunately for the Cougars, the excitement would be short-lived. At the championship meet, an unexpected combination of sickness and dehydration proved disastrous for BYU. The men had hoped to place in the top ten or better, but they did not fare so well in the race. However, though it may have been little consolation at the time, the fact they had made it back to the NCAA Championships was a good step in the right direction for the future of the program.