After winning the big race last year, the BYU women's cross country team once again finds itself in the position of defending national champion. The Cougars simply outran the competition in 1999, beating second-place Arkansas by a convincing 53-point margin of victory. But even more impressive was the fact that all five scorers for BYU earned All-America honors by finishing in the top 26.
While last year's team dominated the competition, the 2000 harriers will have to regroup quickly from the loss of several top runners if they want to defend their title. Elizabeth Jackson and Kara Ormond, the first two finishers at the NCAAs, both completed their cross country eligibility last year. In addition, All-American Laura Heiner will likely miss the next two seasons after announcing plans to leave for a voluntary mission for the LDS church. Coach Patrick Shane is well aware of the challenge in filling these vacancies.
"On paper, we're definitely not the team to beat this year," Shane said. To him, Stanford and Colorado appear to be the clear front runners. "We are probably a top ten team," Shane continued, "maybe closer to fifth than tenth." But while Shane remains modest about his team's chances for the upcoming season, a closer look at what they have on paper shows a Cougar squad that may not be in bad shape.
BYU returns two All-Americans in senior Sharolyn Shields and Junior Tara Northcutt. Shields ran consistently at the front of the pack, and came on strong towards the end of the season. She finished in second place overall at the Mountain Regional, and was the fourth Cougar to cross the line at the NCAA Championship meet. Northcutt recorded a fifth-place finish at Regionals and was the third Cougar to score at the Championships, finishing just behind teammate Kara Ormond. She also collected another national championship this spring when she won the 10,000-meter race at the NCAA track meet.
As for the rest of the lineup, the Cougars will look to simply reload for this year. Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Sarah Ellett returns after an outstanding first season. Ellett scored for BYU at the Pre-National Invitational, and she also made a strong showing at the national championship race. In addition, senior Tara Haynes will add big meet experience to a relatively young team. Haynes ran well for the Cougars at the beginning of last season. She was also the fourth BYU finisher on the 1997 team that won the national championship.
The Cougars will also benefit from the addition of two accomplished junior college transfers. Juniors Devra Vierkant and Marie Hodson come to BYU after leading Utah Valley State College to top-three finishes in the last two NJCAA National Championships. Vierkant finished 10th overall to earn All-America honors in 1998. She was also a five-time All-American in Track during her two years at UVSC, winning one national title in the 3,000-meter race. Hodson finished fourth at the cross country nationals in each of the last two seasons, earning All-America honors both years. UVSC finished second in the nation in 1998, and third in 1999.
The Cougars will spend plenty of time on the road this season, as their schedule takes them to North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and possibly Washington. However they will open the season at home with the BYU Triple Crown on September 16 in Provo.