Living up to the title of defending national champions seemed to come effortlessly to the BYU women's cross country team during its 1998 season. The Cougars entered the preseason ranked number one in the polls and consistently maintained that ranking as they racked up a laundry list of impressive wins: the NCAA District VII Championships, the WAC Championships, the BYU Autumn Classic, the Stanford Invitational, the Mountain West Classic and the Fresno Invitational. In fact, the Cougars won every meet they competed in--except one. On November 23, in one of the closest 1-2-3 finishes in NCAA cross country history, third-ranked Villanova snuck up on BYU to capture the national title 106-110, handing BYU its first team defeat since October 1997.
"There was only a four- or five-point difference between first, second and third place in the race," said BYU head coach Patrick Shane after the loss. "And on any given day those placings could change. We ran well today, but somebody else just ran better. Villanova has the best team in the country today."
Senior Maggie Chan finished her cross country career with a seventh place national finish (17:14.12) and her fourth All-American citation. Chan spent most of the season running several yards ahead of the pack as she took first place at the NCAA regionals, the WAC Championships and the BYU Invitational. At the WAC Championships, she ran the course in a record time of 16:54, earning herself 1998 WAC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year honors.
Sophomore Sharolyn Shields picked up her first All-American honor, placing 13th at the national meet (17:19.25), an improvement of 56 places from her performance in the 1997 championship. Freshman Laura Heiner made her collegiate national debut by coming in third for the Cougars. She finished in 31st place with a time of 17:35.25. Junior Elizabeth Jackson finished close behind in 36th place, and Courtney Meldrum rounded out the Cougar scoring with a 48th-place finish.
Running in its final season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, BYU left a lasting impression on its WAC opponents. The Cougars' 62-point margin of victory over second-place Colorado in the conference meet earned them their ninth consecutive WAC title. The Cougars move on to the new Mountain West Conference having won every WAC Championship in women's cross country.