Senior Stephan Shay is one of the reasons Coach Ed Eyestone is optimistic about BYU's 2008 outlook.
After winning the Mountain West Conference and finishing as the 22nd best team in the nation in 2007, the BYU men’s cross country team looks forward to another strong season in 2008.
“This should be a great season for us,” said Ed Eyestone, head coach of the BYU men’s cross country team. “We have some tremendous individual athletes running this year, and as a team, we are solid from top to bottom.”
Senior Kyle Perry experienced a breakout track season during the 2008 track and field season, and will look to continue that this fall. The All-American from Sandy, Utah will help lead the pack of experienced Cougar runners.
“When Kyle puts his mind to something, he usually gets it,” Eyestone said. “He wants to have a big year, and I’m confident that he will.”
Leading the team with Perry are seniors Stephan Shay and Jacob Gustafsson.
“I expect to see great things from both of them,” Eyestone said. Jacob can be very, very big for us this year, and I know that we haven’t seen the best of Stephan Shay just yet. He’s a top talent, and he’s got that Shay resiliency.”
Other leading returnees include juniors Jonathan Kotter, Brandon Hebbert and Rich Nelson.
“I know that track season left Jon and Brandon hungry for more, and after making some big strides last spring, Rich is hungry to contribute in a big way.”
Several newcomers will have a chance to step into large roles this fall. Key additions include transfer students Thomas Gruenwald (Stanford) and Brandon Babiracki (Orange Coast College). Gruenwald ran an 8:21 in the 3000 meters at Stanford, while Babiracki posted a time of 20:37 in the four-mile California Community College Championships last November.
Several freshmen, including Travis Fuller, James Tracy and Jason Witt will provide energy and depth to the team.
Fuller won the 800, 1600 and 3200 meter state titles last spring while running for Mountain View High school in nearby Orem, Utah. As one of the top runners in California last year, Tracy ran a nine flat in the 3200 meter run, while Witt place 16th at Footlocker Nationals.
“We have so many quality runners coming into the program this season,” Eyestone said. “Every one of them is capable of stepping up and doing big things, and quite frankly, I’m confident that they will be a very impressive group. They certainly have the talent, and more importantly, I believe they have the heart.”
The 2008 Cougars look forward to a strong schedule that will be challenging and allow the team to prove its endurance and athleticism.
“We’ve got a great slate of races this year, and we are looking forward to them as always,” Eyestone said.
The team began official preparations on August 25th in Park City, where the Cougars held team camp. The racing season kicks off on September 6 at BYU's Campus Cross Country Course for the Autumn Classic.
“This is such a great event,” Eyestone said. “There is nothing quite like the first race of the year, when the athletes get a chance to see how all of the effort of the off-season pays off. It’s just a great time.”
The Cougars will head to San Diego the following week to race in the Aztec Invitational before embarking on the official point-gaining portion of the season with the Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn. on September 27 and Pre-Nationals at Terre Haute, Indiana on October 13.
“This middle part of the season is critical for us, in terms of doing well and getting some points. We really need to do as well as we can in those meets, to set ourselves up for the rest of the year.”
The Mountain West Championships will be on October 1 in San Diego, followed by the Mountain Region race in Fort Collins, Colo. on November 15, and hopefully return to the NCAA Championships gain in Terre Haute, Ind., on November 24.
Coach Eyestone has high expectations for the 2008 Cougars.
“We are as deep as we’ve been in awhile,” said Eyestone. “This is a great group of runners, and I do expect us to be better overall than we were last season.”
With the conference getting tougher each year, Eyestone knows that BYU will have to continue to improve to continue to succeed.
“The Mountain West is already tough, and now Air Force and New Mexico have made some changes that are going to make them even tougher. It’s certainly not getting any easier. Now, having said that, we won the conference championship last season, and we have finished ranked every year that I have been here, and I expect us to maintain that kind of positive momentum.”