Senior Anne Heiner is one of several top runners returning for the 2005 season. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- With the season upon them, the women's cross country team is looking to add to the tradition built by the dominant teams before them. This tradition of BYU women's cross country has won 17 conference titles in a row and competed in 16 consecutive national championship meets.
Last season the team was faced with several challenges including losing their No. 1 runner, Kassi Anderson, after being hit by a vehicle while training. Despite the setback the team pulled off an eighth place finish at nationals. This season the Cougars will be striving to continue on the path of dominance and plan on another solid season among the nations best teams.
"We are just working towards doing what we've always done," coach Patrick Shane said. "The program has a tradition of winning the conference championship, a tradition of going to the national championship and doing well. They are never taken for granted, but we expect to do those sorts of thing."
With the experiences of last season, Shane said it will be important for his team to stay healthy this year and then they will be able to see how good they can really be.
One of the Cougars biggest strengths this season will be their depth. They will start the season with 35 girls on the roster, which is up from last year's 22. Shane said this with help his team stay healthy.
"We have a large team," he said. "So we will divide it up into two teams, and one group will run one week and rest the next while the other group run the next week and then rest."
Although the team's top runner from last season graduated, four-time All-American Laura Turner, they are returning several girls who competed last year, giving the team a lot of experience.
The 2004 Mountain West Conference (MWC) Freshman of the Year Heidi Magill should be one of the top runners for the Cougars. Last season she ran in five meets with her best finish coming at the MWC Championships where she placed third and earned First Team All-MWC. She also earned honors after placing sixth at the NCAA Mountain Regional. She is coming off an excellent track season where she earned All-America honors.
"Heidi had a great freshman year last year," Shane said. "I have every expectation that she will be an All-American in cross country. She has the kind of talent where she could be a top-ten finisher."
Two-time All-American Breanne Sandberg will be one of two runners returning to the team after serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She last raced in 2003 when she earned First Team All-MWC, NCAA All- Mountain honors and All-American.
Kristen Ogden, a former transfer from Ricks JC, is the second return missionary coming back to run for the Cougars. She last competed in 2002 when she won her last two races, the Arizona State Invitational and the Pre-Nationals Open Race.
"We have two return missionaries (Ogden and Sandberg) that were great when they left on their missions," Shane said. "Given enough time to get back in shape they are going to be great again."
Other returning runners who should have an impact are Julie Cameron-Meads, Amber Harper, Anne Heiner, Sarah Ingebretsen and Carolyn Quebe.
"We have a strong nucleus of returning runners from last year," Shane said.
The 2005 recruiting class should also make a great contribution for the team according to coach Shane. He said it was one of the best classes in years.
The Cougars pick up a phenomenal runner in Chelsea Smith-McKell. Although she is new to the team, Shane said she is probably the most experienced on the team. She is a transfer from BYU-Hawaii where she was the NCAA Division II national champion the last two years. She also won the 2004 Deseret News Marathon.
There are some freshmen that Shane said he thinks might be some of his top runners this year. A few that stand out are Amy Fowler, Jocelyn Gardner, Sarah Hansen and Aubrey White.
"We got some very good distance runners," he said. "Some of them are kind of unknown. They went under the radar so to speak, but I can assure you they are talented."
The Cougars will be hosting three meets this season including this year's Mountain Regional on Nov. 12. The season begins with two home meets, the Alumni Invitational and the Autumn Classic. The Alumni Classic will be on Sep. 3. On Sep. 10, the Cougars will play host at Cascade Golf Course for the Autumn Classic.
The team then hits the road to Hawaii for the Big Wave Invitational on Sep. 17. From there they travel to Cary, N.C. on Sep. 24, to the Great America Invitational. On Oct. 15 the team will race the course where the NCAA championships will be, in Terre Haute, Ind., in the Pre-Nationals Meet.
This season's MWC Championships is on Oct. 29 in Fort Collins, Colo. The Cougars will then play host for the NCAA Mountain Regional meet on November 12, and the NCAA Championships will be on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.
"The schedule is very similar to what we have always had," Shane said. "It's a good schedule. We are looking forward to hosting the Mountain Regional. It is always fun to run at home in a championship format."
Shane said he feels good about this season and is excited to see how good the team can become. He said come November he feels the team will represent the university and themselves quite well.