PROVO, Utah (November 17) - The quest for a second national title in three years has the women's team pumped up, while the men are confident of reaching their preseason goal of finishing in the top five in Bloomington, Indiana on Monday.
Both teams are in their best shape of the season going into the final meet. All year long, women's coach Patrick Shane and men's coach Sherald James have been gearing practices and race strategies to prepare the athletes for this one, all-important event. The women are appearing in their 11th consecutive NCAA final, while the men return to the championships for the first time since 1995.
"I wouldn't trade our chances with anybody's," said Shane. "This is the best team I have ever coached, even better than the 1997 national championship team. The last two races [NCAA district meet and MWC championships] were the two best performances by any team I have coached in my 19-year career. If we had held the national championships last week, I'm confident we would have won. Come Monday, if the girls finish anywhere lower than first, then there must have been another pretty incredible team out there."
BYU will run its top five women for only the second time this year. In three previous races against No. 1 Stanford, all losses, BYU's talented five-woman nucleus was never intact. Coaches are a little concerned about sophomore sensation Laura Heiner, who has been struggling with a lung and sinus infection, but they are confident that she will be ready to go when it counts. "I have never coached any athlete that had more heart than she does," said Shane.
Coming off a conservatively run district meet, the Cougar men are planning to lay it all on the line in Bloomington. "Our main focus right now is to get recovered and race out of our minds," said team leader John Hedengren, who has been BYU's top finisher in all five meets this season. "Our original goal was to finish in the top five and I think we can pull it off if we all run solid races."
Training all year in Provo's high elevation (4,553 feet) may give the Cougars an edge over the competition in the 30-team field. But Coach James is more concerned about his men running another 10-kilometer race with little more than a week's rest from last Saturday's NCAA district meet. "Not everyone will come into the race at their peak. It will be a challenge of individuals that have the strongest will and can be tough when they need to be," said James.
The Cougars are planning on a slight change of strategy for the finals. After an "every man for himself" philosophy through much of the year, BYU will run as a team as much as possible on Monday. "If we are going to have a chance to win this thing, we need to maintain a pack near the front of the field. The championship will be won in the middle of the race, not on the homestretch," said James.
The men's race is scheduled for an 11:00 a.m. start while the women will race at 12:15 p.m. Times are local. Results will be available at www.athletics.indiana.edu and shortly thereafter at byucougars.com.