The 2007 women's team capped off a successful year with a 25th-place finish at nationals. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- A top-25 ranking all year proved that the 2007 BYU women's cross country team was a talented team, with multiple All-Mountain West Conference and All-Mountain Region recipients.
"Anytime you finish in the top 25 at nationals, it's a good year," BYU coach Patrick Shane said. "It was one of the most enjoyable years for me as a coach to work with this group of leadership. It was just a lot of fun."
A 25th-place finish at nationals wasn't the best the Cougars have ever had, but considering the loss of key runners from last years' squad and how the team battled injury and sickness all year, success wasn't determined by wins and losses as much as overcoming obstacles.
After four of the Cougars' top five runners left from the 2006 team, team leaders and new faces needed to step up. Freshman Angela Wagner and sophomore Katie Bowen provided the solution, backed by a solid core of veteran talent.
Wagner and Bowen led the Cougars for most of the races, with freshman Cecily Lemmon coming on strong at the end. Upperclassmen Jenna Jensen, Tawny Bybee, Amy Fowler Layne and Amber Duffin provided the stability as the Cougars placed second at the MWC Championships and third at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships.
With solid performances at the conference and regional meets, individuals received many accolades. Wagner and Bowen were awarded first-team All-MWC honors, with Bybee, Duffin, Jensen and Lemmon receiving second-team All-MWC honors. At regionals, Wagner, Duffin, Jensen and Lemmon were awarded All-Mountain Region honors.
BYU Autumn Classic
A new face led the Cougars in the first race of the season. Wagner, a freshman from South Africa, finished first for the Cougars and third overall behind two Baylor runners.
Wagner is the junior national record holder for South Africa in the steeplechase, and she showed her strength in her first race as a Cougar with a time of 17:51.9 despite recovering from a muscle injury in her thigh early this year.
"The race was a bit tougher than I expected," Wagner said. "I was hurt towards the beginning of this year, so I'm still trying to get back into shape for competitions."
Wagner was awarded MWC Athlete of the Week honors for breaking the BYU freshman school record for the course with a 5K time of 17:51:09.
Bowen placed fourth overall with a time of 17:52.3 and was the second-place finisher for the Cougars. Layne, a 2006 first-team All-Mountain West Conference recipient, finished in ninth place overall with a time of 18:12.4.
Baylor won the race with just 21 points and BYU came in second with 39 points.
Big Wave Invitational
Five BYU runners claimed the Nos. 2-6 spots as the women's cross country team ran to a first-place finish at the Big Wave Invitational in Hawai`i.
"I'm very pleased with how they ran," BYU coach Patrick Shane said. "We ran together as a group very well today. I feel like we accomplished the goals we set for the week."
Despite traveling with a limited squad to Hawai`i to rest for the Bill Dellinger Invitational, the Cougars scored 20 points, defeating San Diego State (64), Hawai`i (117), Hawai`i-Hilo (125), BYU-Hawai`i (134), Saint Mary's (162), Hawai`i Pacific (164) and Chaminade (268).
BYU's top runner, Lemmon, a redshirt freshman from Vacaville, Calif., finished in second place in 14:39 behind Hawai`i runner Chantele Wilder at 14:34.
Lemmon claimed the second MWC Athlete of the Week honor for the Cougars, completing the 4k race with the fasted time all year in the MWC.
"Cecily Lemmon ran quite well considering the fact that she was sick all week," Shane said.
Bill Dellinger Invitational
At the Bill Dellinger Invitational, where second through fifth place was determined by less than 15 points, the No. 18-ranked BYU women's cross country team finished fifth.
Six top-25 teams made the trip to Eugene, Ore., for the meet, with host Oregon winning. Arkansas, ranked No. 4 nationally, came in second place with No. 17 Washington and No. 21 Colorado State finishing in third and fourth, respectively.
"We ran a notably better race than we did three weeks ago at the Autumn Classic," said Shane of the Cougars' second-place finish in a race with far less talent than that of the Dellinger Invitational. "We did a better job running as a team, and our groupings were much better."
The Cougars were led by Bowen who placed fifth overall with a 6K time of 20:31. Wagner wasn't far behind with a time of 20:33, good for seventh place.
"We could've started off a little faster but we got boxed in a little bit at the beginning," Wagner said. "But overall, I was really happy with the race."
Rounding out the top five for the Cougars were Duffin (29th overall), Layne (30th) and Jensen (33rd). Duffin and Layne ran identical times of 21:06, with Jensen completing the race in 21:12.
The BYU women tied for sixth in a stacked race, with key wins over No. 18 Providence, No. 20 Florida, No. 23 Iowa and No. 28 Georgia.
"Beating those teams gives us a leg up going into Nationals if we don't qualify through Regionals," Shane said. "It was also nice to see how well we ran as a group."
Just 26 seconds separated the scoring top five for BYU, the closest splits the team has had with its top runners all year. Coach Shane said he was especially impressed with the race of Jensen.
"Jenna Jensen had the best race of the year and maybe her life," Shane said of Jensen's 21:18 6K performance, good for third among Cougar runners. "I'm really happy with her effort, and it shows the depth of our team."
Wagner said she ran well for the first 3K, but got tired over the final half-mile.
"That last half-mile went pretty bad," Wagner admitted. "A 6K race is still a stretch for me considering I'm an 800m runner."
Behind Wagner was Bowen (21:00), Jensen, Lemmon (21:20) and Duffin (21:25).
Colorado State ended BYU's 19-year reign in the women's conference race, winning by six points in the 6K race. No. 12 CSU tallied 33 points, followed by BYU with 39, New Mexico 94, Wyoming 118, Utah 130, Air Force 160, UNLV 204, TCU 204 and San Diego State 229.
CSU's April Thomas trailed Bowen for much of the race, but Thomas pulled ahead in the final 1K for a time of 21:20. CSU teammate Kirsten Anthony followed in 21:22. Bowen was third in 21:28, followed by Wagner in 21:33 for fourth.
"It will happen some time to everyone," said Shane, BYU's women's coach, regarding the end of a 19-year run as conference champion. "I'm not happy about it, but I am happy about how our athletes put in all on the line. Hats off to Colorado State. It was the closest we have been to CSU all year."
The Cougars were in the driver's seat to win the MWC crown with just 500 meters to go in the race, but a late surge by CSU gave it the edge.
Bowen and Wagner were named to the MWC First Team, while teammates Bybee, Lemmon, Jensen and Duffin were named to the MWC Second Team.
Mountain Regional Championships
A third-place finish by the Cougars at regionals in Ogden, Utah, including a ninth-place finish by Wagner, helped the team punch its ticket to nationals with an at-large berth.
Mountain West Conference foe Colorado State took home the women's title with 75 points, followed by Northern Arizona (81), BYU (90), Colorado (105) and Texas Tech (113).
"We ran a real strong team race today," Shane said. "I was really impressed with the race that Cecily Lemmon ran today. She really stepped it up today and ran the race of her life."
Lemmon finished the 6K race with a time of 21:16.5, good for second place for the Cougars and 12th overall.
Bowen and Wagner shuffled between sixth and 10th place through the first half of the race, but Lemmon came on strong in the final 3K.
Wagner, Duffin, Lemmon and Jensen all finished in the top 25, earning All-Mountain Region honors.
NCAA National Championships
A 25th-place finish at the live nationally televised NCAA National Championships wasn't what the women's team expected going into the race, but considering the problems late in the race, it could have been much worse.
The Cougars were in third place after the 2000m mark and in seventh after 4000m, but the final 2000m the team dropped back to 25th. Wagner had some breathing problems toward the end, dropping her all the way back out of the scoring top five, a place she hadn't been all year.
"Everything had been good had Angela had her normal race, but she hyperventilated and it was too late to correct it when I realized what was happening," BYU women's coach Patrick Shane said. "She hadn't had a bad race yet, and we've been working on her breathing problem."
Wagner ended up as BYU's sixth runner, as the Cougar women were led by another freshman, Lemmon.
"Cecily had another solid race, the best she's ever done for us. Katie (Bowen) got out early and finished strong. Jenna (Jensen) ran well the whole race and had her best race of the year."
Lemmon was BYU's most improved runner through the season and placed 65th overall as its top scorer.
"I felt great and strong through the 3K mark," said Lemmon. "I could tell Angela was struggling off the last loop, so I gave it everything I had. I had visualized myself finishing strong."
Bowen, Jensen, Duffin and Bybee rounded out the scoring top five for BYU.