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Braden Taylor | Posted: 17 Oct 2020 | Updated: 14 Mar 2021
Braden Taylor

BYU women’s cross country dominates OSU Invitational, men finish third

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Whittni Orton leading the pack at the 2019 NCAA Cross Country Championships

STILLWATER, Okla. – Whittni Orton’s individual title led BYU women’s cross country to a decisive first-place finish while Conner Mantz and Casey Clinger finished 2-3 to help the men’s team take third as both teams opened the 2020-21 cross country season at the OSU Invitational on the OSU Cross Country Course.

The BYU women’s squad had six runners place in the top 10 to cruise to a first-place finish with a score of 22 points. Southern Utah took second with 50 points while Oklahoma State (95 points), Kansas State (109 points) and UTEP (124 points) finished 3-5.

The BYU men’s team scored 59 points to finish third place behind Northern Arizona (36 points) and Oklahoma State (42 points). Southern Utah (87 points) and Kansas State (162 points) finished behind the Cougars to round out the top 5 in the team standings.

Women's 6K Results
Men's 8K Results

Women’s Recap

“I was really pleased with the effort given today by the women,” BYU associate director of cross country and track and field Diljeet Taylor said. “Our main goal coming into the meet was to get our feet on the grass and get familiar with it. It is a grueling course and very tough. We were very conservative for a majority of the race, running most of it together. Being the first cross country meet, you just never know what to expect so I was pleased with the effort everyone showed today.”

Orton was first across the finish line for the women and finished the 6K in 20:27.8, nearly 11 seconds ahead of the second-place runner. The senior All-American led the field for almost the entirety of the race to win her fourth individual cross country title of her career.

“Whittni is extremely fit right now,” Taylor said. “We knew after the cross country season and indoor track season she had last year that she was going to come back this season and have big goals. Today was just focusing on staying patient and she did that for a majority of the race, so her time isn’t a true attest of where she is at. I loved her effort and the grit she showed at the end.”

Junior Aubrey Frentheway took third place (21:00.01) while true freshman Lexy Halladay (21:15.4) and senior Anna Camp-Bennett (21:27.4) went 6-7, respectively. Senior Sara Musselman placed 9th (21:32.5) and junior Sophie Lasswell finished 10th (21:47.1) to round out the six Cougars in the top 10.

True freshmen Anna Martin (21:50.4) and Simone Plourde (22:02.7) crossed the finish line next for the Cougars, finishing 13th and 16th, respectively. The entire BYU women’s squad finished in the top 25 with senior Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes finishing 21st (22:16.8) and senior Kate Hunter placing 24th (22:21.8).

“Going forward, we’ll focus on continuing to build strength and emphasize on speed,” Taylor said. “It’s a long time until the NCAA Championships so we’ll pocket what we learned today about the difficulty of this course. We have time before the championships and that’s the beauty of it. It’s nice to have a little more time to develop them and give them more confidence before we come back on March 15.”

Men’s Recap

“We went up against four teams that will be very relevant in the NCAA Cross Country Championships this March,” BYU head coach Ed Eyestone said. “I thought we did a very good job, particularly Casey and Conner. They put themselves up there right where we expected them to be. There wasn’t really a question on how they were going to race, and they ran very, very well.”

After leading the BYU men’s team to its first national title in program history in 2019, Mantz opened the 2020-21 season picking up right where he left off. The All-American came just short of catching NAU’s Luis Grijalva (23:30.2) down the final stretch to finish in second place (23:31.4). In Clinger’s first collegiate race since returning from this two-year mission for The Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the 2017 All-American had a solid performance finishing right after Mantz to take third place (23:38.7).

All-American Clayson Shumway ran unattached and finished eighth overall (24:01.5). While not scoring for the team this meet, the senior is expected to race with the team in future competitions starting in January.

“With Clayson factored in, it would have been a much closer contest,” Eyestone said. “Without Clayson in the mix and with Brandon Garnica and Matt Owens not 100 percent, I think we’re going to be in a good place come the NCAA Championships based on today’s performance.

Sophomore Zack Erickson made his cross country debut for the Cougars and had a strong showing, finishing 16th overall (24:19.4). Seniors Kramer Morton (24:38.8) and Connor Weaver (24:50.2) rounded out the first five for the Cougars while placing 26th and 30th overall, respectively.

“Based off of workouts, I thought Zack Ericksen was going to have a good day and he certainly did as our three. We know we’ve got a solid three with Mantz, Clinger and Shumway. With Zack Ericksen, we now know we’ve got a solid four. It’s going to be up to the other guys to close the gap and get a fifth man in there. I’m feeling confident that when we’re 100 percent, we’re going to be very good.”

Juniors Zac Jacklin (24:53.3) and Brandon Garnica (24:54.0) crossed next for BYU and finishing 34-35. Freshman Aidan Troutner placed 41st (25:02.9) in his first collegiate race while junior Adam Wood (25:29.8) and senior Matt Owens (25:33.0) finished 50-51 overall.

“Overall, we did what we wanted to do,” Eyestone said. “I was happy for the guys to see the course and run the course. However, this also just shows that just because we’re the defending national champs it’s not going to be a walk in the park This will allow us to get some work in and get prepared for the national meet.”

With no other meets currently scheduled in the fall, BYU cross country will continue to practice and prepare for the spring cross country season that begins on January 23 and concludes with the NCAA Championships on March 15 at the OSU Cross Country Course.

Kyle Chilton | Posted: 14 Oct 2020 | Updated: 8 Nov 2020
Kyle Chilton

Cougars set to compete at OSU Invitational

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Photos of Conner Mantz and Whittni Orton with text announcing the OSU Invitational

PROVO, Utah – BYU cross country will compete for the first time in 2020-21 when the Cougars race at the OSU Invitational Saturday at the OSU Cross Country Course in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The OSU Cross Country Course is the site for the 2020-21 NCAA DI Cross Country Championships.

Meet Information

The BYU cross country program is coming off perhaps the best combined season in its history as the men won the 2019 championship and the women took second. For the men, it was the first national championship in school history and for the women – a program that has won four titles – it was their best finish since 2003.

Both teams had high expectations for 2020 but in August, the WCC and NCAA postponed the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sept. 21, the Division I Council approved moving fall championships to the winter and spring. The cross country regular season will be conducted Jan. 30 through March 5, with championship selections on March 6 and the championships scheduled for March 15 in Stillwater. Teams are allowed to compete in the fall, with meet results counting towards qualification for the NCAA Championship meet.

“I could sense a change in the mentality and level of readiness for the team once this meet became a reality,” BYU head coach Ed Eyestone said. “It’s one thing to train as a group, but it can be difficult when you don’t have an immediate goal. It’s been good for the team to have this motivation. The spirits have been high. We’re very appreciative to get out and roll. You want opportunities to put on the BYU uniform and show your fitness in comparison to other teams.”

As of Tuesday, official entries for the meet include BYU, Kansas State, Northern Arizona, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Christian, Oklahoma State, Southern Utah and UTEP. Unattached runners from Colorado will compete in both races as well. The teams are required to follow the Big 12 COVID-19 medical protocols. Last season, the Northern Arizona men finished second at the NCAA Championships, trailing BYU 163-109. On the women’s side, Northern Arizona finished 14th overall and Oklahoma State had two individual qualifiers who finished in the top 20 that return this season.

“The biggest takeaway for this meet is to get on the course and preview it,” BYU associate director of cross country and track and field Diljeet Taylor said. “It’s really important to get our feet on it before the NCAA Championships in March. We want to know what the course looks like and gauge its difficulty.”

BYU Men’s Preview

The BYU men will be led by junior Conner Mantz and sophomore Casey Clinger. Last season, Mantz – a two-time All-American – led the Cougars to the national title with a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Mantz took 10th at the 2018 NCAA Championships.

Clinger returns to BYU following a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Japan. As a freshman in 2017, he was the top finisher on a Cougar squad that took third at the NCAA Championships as he took 24th to earn All-America recognition.

The travel squad for Saturday includes three others who ran at the 2019 NCAA Championships – sophomore Brandon Garnica, junior Matt Owens and junior Connor Weaver. Garnica and Owens finished fourth and fifth for BYU and 42nd and 45th overall, respectively. Weaver was seventh for the Cougars and 154th overall.

“I think we have the strongest one-two punch in the nation with Conner and Casey,” Eyestone said. “This will help us start to figure out the three through seven position. I think we’re a good team right now and we’ll be a very good team come March 15. Owens and Garnica are both coming off illness, so they are not 100 percent. This will be a great opportunity for us to gauge their fitness and give them a chance to run the championship course.”

Other returnees with experience set to compete in Oklahoma are Zac Jacklin and Kramer Morton. Both competed at the 2019 Mountain Region Championships and Jacklin earned All-WCC First Team honors.

Rounding out the travel roster are Aidan Troutner, Zack Ericksen and Adam Wood. Troutner, the 2017-18 Gatorade Boys National Cross Country Runner of the Year and the 2017 Nike Cross Nationals champion, comes to BYU after serving a two-year mission in Alberta, Canada. Wood has competed on the track in the 3,000 meters and the steeplechase but is making his cross country debut. Ericksen, also making his cross country debut, has competed in the 3,000 meter and the 5,000 meters in track.

BYU Women’s Preview

The BYU women’s travel roster features seven upperclassmen – including three athletes who competed at the 2019 NCAA Championships – and three true freshmen.

“We are super excited to compete,” Taylor said. “The last six months our team has been training hard, not knowing when they would compete again. We are chomping at the bit and will be racing with gratitude because we know this is a special privilege. In the past, these races are just part of what we do. With everything that has happened since March, this opportunity puts things in a different perspective."

The team’s top returner is senior Whittni Orton, who finished seventh overall at the 2019 NCAA Championships and earned All-America honors. Orton also won three meets during the 2019 season, including the West Coast Conference Championships.

Senior Anna Camp-Bennett was the Cougars’ fifth finisher at nationals (60th overall) and senior Sara Musselman was seventh on the squad and 160th overall. Camp-Bennett and Musselman earned All-WCC First Team honors.

Two other seniors and two juniors join Orton, Camp-Bennett and Musselman on the travel squad. Junior Aubrey Frentheway earned a win at the 2019 BYU Autumn Classic and was the team’s fifth finisher at the Bill Dellinger Invitational. Senior Kate Hunter competed in three meets last season, including a 42nd-place finish at the Bill Dellinger Invitational.

Senior Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes competed in two meets in 2018 and earned All-America honors in track in 2020 as a member of BYU’s DMR team. Junior Sophie Lasswell competed in the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters on the track last season.

“Our returners have looked really good in practice and I’m impressed by their fitness level. I want to see how the freshmen handle their first college meet. They have acclimated well to our level of training but It’s really important for them to go out and compete in a real race. I’m excited to see how they fight and respond to this kind of competition.”

The three true freshmen are Lexy Halladay, Anna Martin and Simone Plourde. All three have experience at the national level, including Halladay taking fourth at the 2018 Foot Locker Nationals and Martin placing 25th at the 2019 Foot Locker Nationals. Plourde hails from Montreal, Quebec, and took third at the 2019 Canadian U20 Championships.