PROVO -- In a season that started out promising with three consecutive meet wins, the BYU women’s cross country team struggled during the championship season, finishing third in the Mountain West Conference and fourth in the Mountain Region, and narrowly missed qualifying for the National Championships.
“We did not realize our expectations this season,” BYU head coach Patrick Shane said. “I was disappointed in the fact that we finished third at conference. We were a top-25 team but things just did not go our way and missing Nationals was very unfortunate.”
The Cougars started the season ranked no. 20 in the USTFCCCA poll but lost top runner Cecily Lew to an injury during preseason cross country camp. Lew, an All-American and the MWC individual champion in 2009, never managed to regain her championship form.
Junior Kate Bowen, in her first cross country season in over two years, stepped up in Lew’s absence and filled the role of lead runner for the Cougars. Bowen finished first among BYU runners in every race in which she competed and was the lone Cougar runner to compete at nationals.
“We had a great group of runners this season but Kate (Bowen) really stood out,” Shane said. “I saw her run and practice during the preseason and was not surprised that she came out and was our leader and top runner all year long.”
The MWC Championships proved to be a tough race for BYU, despite being picked to win the conference during the preseason. Bowen crossed in the line in fifth overall and earned first team All-MWC honors for the first time in her career. Sophomore Nicole Nielsen finished 14th overall, good enough for second team All-MWC honors.
With only two athletes named to the All-MWC first and second teams, the Cougars missed a top two finish at conference for the first time in school history, taking third behind nationally ranked New Mexico and Colorado State.
“This was our first time ever finishing third in a conference meet,” Shane said. “The athletes ran their hearts out but New Mexico had a great team and Colorado State ran a great race. It was just not a great feeling for us to finish third.”
After struggling at conference BYU went on to region with high expectations. Bowen again led the squad, finishing in 12th place and earning first team All-Region accolades and an individual bid to nationals. Katy Andrews, a junior, ran her best race of the season and finished 23rd overall to earn make the All-Region second team.
Strong efforts from the top five runners, including Bowen and Andrews, allowed the Cougars to run their best team race of the season as they topped Colorado State and finished fourth in the Mountain Region. Texas Tech, New Mexico and Colorado, the three teams that finished above the Cougars, went on to finish third, fifth and sixth, respectively, at the National Championships.
Bowen represented the Cougars at nationals following the Mountain Region meet. It marked the second time competing at the National Championships for Bowen, who competed for Weber State in 2006 and finished 88th.
Facing a steady headwind and 237 other top runners coveting a national championship, Bowen represented the Cougars well with a 61st place finish and missed All-American status by just 21 spots.
With the conclusion of the 2010 season BYU will lose two senior runners to graduation, including Lew, one of the most accomplished BYU runners in recent history. Also graduating is Stacy Slight, who had a career best fifth place finish at the Bob Firman Invitational this season.
“We had a really young, enthusiastic team this year,” Shane said. “We will get better heading into next season. We will recruit hard and will come back next year stronger. We will have a deep and talented team and will continue the great cross country tradition that has been established at BYU.”
In 2011, the Cougars will see top runners Bowen, Andrews and Nielsen return to guide the team back to national prominence. Lisa Drury, Candace Eddy, Rachel Lange and Katie Palmer, all routine top five finishers on the team, will also all return with the goal of winning the school’s first West Coast Conference championship.