(Photo by Jaren Wilkey)
PROVO, Utah – After finishing 28th at the 2011 NCAA National Championships, women’s cross country head coach Patrick Shane has set his sights even higher in 2012 with several returnees and a strong recruiting class.
“Traditionally, we always have a great team, even over the past few years when we have not preformed the way we would have liked,” Shane said. “We have several great runners and leaders returning who will take the incoming freshman under their wings to help our team reach its full potential. This year should be very exciting to watch.”
The cross country program begins its second year in the West Coast Conference after a second-place finish in last year’s conference championships behind new league rival San Francisco. To add to the rivalry, Chris Shane, son of Patrick Shane, recently joined San Francisco’s coaching staff as the new assistant head coach.
The top three runners returning for the Cougars in 2012 are Sarah Darby, Michaelanne Laurent and Stephanie Bills.
“For the most part, our returning runners have gone unnoticed, but have performed exceptionally well,” Shane said. “Sarah did great in her first season with us, and we expect her to get even better this year. Michaelanne has been very consistent and strong over the last few years. She will provide the leadership our team needs, as will Stephanie. During the National Championships last year, she was our No. 3 runner and ran well for us.”
Darby, a sophomore from San Clemente, Calif., began the 2011 season with a third-place finish at the Utah State Invitational. During the WCC Championships, Darby finished 17th overall and was named the WCC Freshman of the Year.
Laurent, a senior from Henderson, Nev., finished 16th overall at the WCC Championships and 48th at the NCAA National Championships.
Bills, a senior from Provo, finished 14th overall at the WCC Championships. She graduated last year with a degree in nursing but will return to use her last year of eligibility for one last go with the cross country team.
Joining a seasoned roster, the 2012 recruiting class is made up of a group of runners labeled by Shane as the best recruiting class in BYU cross country history.
“What makes this group so special is how similar they run during their races,” Shane said. “Three of them broke the Utah high school state 1600-meter record in the same race. It will be fun to see the impact they will have on our team this year and throughout their college careers. There's no question this is the best group of girls I've ever signed.”
Utah natives Ashleigh Warner (Orem), Natalie Shields (Salt Lake City) and Erica Birk (Hoytsville) all broke the 1,600-meter state record with times of 4:50.13, 4:51.02 and 4:51.03, respectively. Another signee and Utah native, Laura Young (South Jordan) finished fourth in the same race with a time of 4:56.43.
Other runners in this year’s recruiting class are Carrie Jube (Provo, Utah), Erika Reddish (Murrieta, Calif.) and Danica Wyson (Laguna Niguel, Calif.).
Jube finished fifth at the state cross country meet and sixth in state in the 3,200 meters during her senior year. She also led her cross country team to a first-place region finish placing third overall.
Reddish won the 1,600 at the Southwestern League finals four years in a row and set Murrieta Valley records in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Wyson spent most of her junior year struggling with injuries but returned as one of the top distance runners in California her senior year. She finished fourth at the South Coast League finals, fifth at the CIF-SS finals and 12th at the Division I state finals.
The Cougars look forward to a challenging season competing against some of the top talent in the country.
“We have several great races scheduled this year against strong teams, but we still expect to do well,” Shane said.
The team began training camp in Park City, Utah, on Monday, August 20, 2012, in preparation for its first race of the year at the Utah State Invitational in Logan, Utah, on Sept. 1.
On Sept. 8 BYU heads to Reno, Nev., for the Reno Twilight Classic followed by its first and only home event, the annual BYU Autumn Classic, on Sept 14.
The next two races of the season consist of the Toledo Bubble Buster and the Greater Louisville Invitational on Sept. 21 and Sept. 29, respectively.
For the last race of the regular season, the team heads to Madison, Wis., for the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 12.
The WCC Championships are scheduled for Oct. 27 in Portland, Ore., followed by the Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 9 in Fort Collins, Colo.
The team’s overall performance in the Bubble Buster, the Louisville Invitational and the Mountain Region Championships will determine whether or not they qualify for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.
“Advancing to nationals and placing higher than last year is a must for us,” Shane said. “Because of where we have been in the past and because of the runners we have this year, we have set very high expectations.”