The Cougar women finished second in the nation in 1998. For some of the runners it was a disappointing finish, as they had come to expect great things following a national championship in 1997. 1998 was not a mediocre year by any means, however, as the Cougars captured team titles in all six events leading into the NCAA Championships. Villanova, one of the nation's elite cross country programs, ran away with the title, 106-110, ahead of Stanford's 111 points in the closest 1-2-3 finish in NCAA history.
Some of the Cougars earned their distinctions in the classroom as well as in the 5K. A team-record four of 1998's women's cross country team earned Academic All-American honors, led by graduated senior Maggie Chan. Also qualifying were three of BYU's returning harriers: Elizabeth Jackson, Tara Rohatinsky and Sharolyn Shields. The three had an average GPA of 3.64 in leading the team to a high finish in the national team academic standings.
The tough defeat at the NCAAs was the Cougars' first loss since October 1997. The 1999 season has great promise as the BYU women's cross country team expects no less than a national championship when it travels to Bloomington, Indiana for the NCAA finals in November.
Consistently ranked No. 1 throughout the 1998 season, the Cougars appear as the No. 5-ranked team in the 1999 preseason Harrier Poll. With national expectations a little lower, BYU's runners are in a position to surprise a lot of people.
"On paper this team is as good or better than last year's. But the national championship won't be determined on paper," said 1997 NCAA Coach of the Year Patrick Shane. "We have a lot of depth, and that's what it really takes to get it done. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Although the team suffered a huge blow when All-American and team leader Maggie Chan graduated in April, the Cougars return two All-Americans from 1998 in junior Sharolyn Shields and sophomore Laura Heiner. Senior Elizabeth Jackson, who recently became the U.S. National Champion in the 3000-meter steeplechase, is also an All-American, earning the honor for her performance as a distance runner on the track team.
The tradition of running against the best competition in the nation will continue in 1999, as BYU will host the Triple Crown Cross Country Invitational, an event that includes perpetual title contenders Stanford and Georgetown, as well as competitive teams from Oklahoma State, William and Mary, Weber State and Idaho State.