(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah – Head coach Chris Shane and the women’s cross country team entered 2011 in a new conference with high hopes of winning the conference championship and returning to national prominence.
Overall, BYU finished second at the West Coast Conference Championships, 20 points behind San Francisco, and for the second year in a row placed fourth in the Mountain Region behind New Mexico, Colorado and Weber State. In the NCAA National Championships the team finished 28th, including a 14th place finish from senior All-American Morgan Haws. Haws transferred from Weber State for her senior season.
“We came into the season ranked 30th and finished 28th overall,” Shane said. “When you consider there are over 330 teams that competed to be at the national championships, to finish 28th was really an honor.”
At the beginning of the season, coach Shane was selective with whom he chose to run and how he taught his runners to pace themselves. The team’s top runners, seniors Morgan Haws and Katy Andrews, did not compete until the third and fourth races of the year. However, during those races, they took the reigns as the leaders and led the team back to respectable heights.
“We chose to start late and not race all our top runners,” Shane said. “We knew it would hurt us a little early on, but we felt it was worth it. It was not about how we ran early but how we ran at the end of the season that really mattered.”
The first few races consisted of the Utah State Invitational and the BYU Invitational. Despite the absence of Haws and Andrews, the Cougars finished first in both events led by underclassmen.
At the Utah State Invitational, the Cougars snatched the victory by one point over Weber State as Bethanie Krumen and Kelsi Tippits came from behind passing two Weber girls to earn the last few points for the win. Freshman Sarah Darby, the WCC Freshman of the Year, finished first for BYU and third overall with a time of 17:42.7.
In the BYU Invitational, BYU’s first home meet of the year, the team pulled off another narrow victory ahead of Idaho Sate University, 32-30. The standout for the race was freshman Brooke Holt, who finished first for the Cougars and third overall. According to coach Shane, Holt was the go-to girl and executed her race plan perfectly.
The Griak Invitational upped the competition significantly, giving the Cougars their biggest test of the year. Haws competed in her first race in four years but still managed to finish first for the Cougars and second overall with a time of 20:43, just .12 seconds behind the leader.
In addition to Haws’ performance, the next four finishers for BYU crossed the line all within 12 seconds of each other. The team finished 10th overall behind nationally ranked teams such as No. 8 Iowa State, No. 10 Arizona and No. 26 Michigan State.
“To finish like we did during the Griak Invitational showed remarkable depth,” Shane said. “At that point in the year, though we started slow, we were right on schedule to where we needed to be to accomplish our goal, to win the conference and return to nationals.”
During the last two races before the conference championship, regionals and nationals, the Cougars continued to improve their times finishing sixth at the Notre Dame Invitational and 22nd at the Wisconsin Invitational. As the team continued to improve so did Haws with second-place and fifth-place finishes, respectively, running against some of the top runners in the country.
“I knew we would be racing the top teams and individuals in the nation, so coming in I wanted to be at least in the top 10," Haws said. "I wasn’t sure exactly where I was individually compared to the other girls, but I was able to pass a lot of people towards the end.”
Katy Andrews made her debut at the Notre Dame Invitational finishing 40th overall and 56th overall in Wisconsin.
BYU has not placed first in the conference standing since 2006, but hoped this year was the year. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 the Cougars finished second and finished third in 2010.
Based on their performances at the WCC Championships, Haws and Andrews were named to the 2011 Women's Cross Country All-West Coast Conference Team. Junior Stephanie Bills and sophomore Candace Eddy Carlisle were named honorable mention.
In the Mountain Region Championships, Haws finished second overall with a time of 20:52.2, earned all-region honors and qualified for nationals individually. Close behind Haws was Andrews who finished 25th overall and also earned all-region honors.
"It was an exciting race," Shane said. "Morgan ran her best race of the year. At that point we still didn’t know if we were going to nationals, but we were excited for Morgan and kept our fingers crossed."
After failing to qualify for the national championships in 2010, the Cougars received an at-large bid to participate in the championship and in the eyes of coach Shane, the team took advantage of it, finishing 28th overall.
Haws accomplished her personal goal to finish in the top 15. She finished 14th overall and earned All-America plaudits from the USTFCCCA. Jensen-Bills, Andrews and Darby all finished within two seconds of each other. Jensen-Bills and Andrews finished with a time of 21:43 and Darby came in at 21:45. Junior Rachel Lange-Schmutz rounded out BYU’s top five with a time of 22:08.
With the conclusion of the 2011 season, BYU will lose several seniors including All-American Haws and all-region selection Andrews. In 2012, the team returns many up-and-coming runners such as the WCC Freshman of the Year Darby, senior Michaelanne Laurent, senior Jensen-Bills and sophomore UVU transfer Kodi Kleven.