(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah – With a solid core of returning athletes and several talented newcomers, the BYU men's cross country enters the 2012 season as a contender for conference, regional and national success.
"We're definitely hoping to build on the success we saw last year," said head coach Ed Eyestone. "If we take it one meet at a time, I believe it's possible. More importantly, the athletes believe it."
After finishing fourth at the 2011 NCAA National Championships, the Cougars start this season ranked third in the nation by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Last year, they finished first in all but one of their regular season events. They also won the NCAA regional and West Coast Conference championships, ending the University of Portland's streak of 32-consecutive conference championships.
After a strong inaugural season in the WCC in 2011, the Cougars enter the 2012 campaign ranked first in the conference by the pre-season coaches' poll, getting seven of the nine possible first-place votes. Furthermore, senior team captain Rex Shields and fellow teammates Tylor Thatcher, Jared Ward, Jason Witt and Steve Flint made up half of the Preseason All-West Coast Conference roster.
Despite losing All-American Miles Batty, the Cougars maintain five of the seven runners who earned the team a spot on the podium at last year's national championship.
Shields and Ward, who finished 22nd and 58th, respectively, in the 2011 NCAA National Championships, will anchor this season's squad as co-captains.
Thatcher and Witt return for their junior seasons after finishing 84th and 92nd, respectively, at the NCAA National Championships last year.
Curtis Carr also ran at the 2011 NCAA National Championships and finished sixth for BYU, coming in 118th place.
The team will look to start their season off strong at the Utah State Invitational on Saturday. The Cougars won the event last year led by Ward and Carr, who finished first and second overall, respectively. Thatcher and Flint also finished in the top 10.
Eyestone said he plans on giving his top runners a rest this week, hoping to give some of the incoming talent a chance to gain experience and prove what they can do.
"This will be a good rust buster for us because we haven't raced in a while," Eyestone said. "I'll get a chance to see the younger guys run and see who will fit well with the travelling team."
The Cougars will host the BYU Autumn Classic on Sept. 14 and will race at the Bill Dellinger Invitational on Sept. 29. They are also scheduled to race at the 2012 Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 13.
The WCC Championships are scheduled for Oct. 27 in Portland, Ore., followed by the Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 9 in Fort Collins, Colo.
The 2012 NCAA DI Cross Country Championship will take place Nov. 17 at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.