Next Stop Nationals For Cougar Cross Country Teams

The BYU women's cross country team will be looking for their third national championship in four years, and the men's squad will be in the running for a top-five finish as the Cougars travel to Ames, Iowa for the NCAA Championships on Monday.

The BYU women's team slipped to No. 3 in the final national poll of the season, after taking second to Colorado in the Mountain Regionals. The Buffalos took over the No. 1 spot, followed by Stanford at No 2.

On the men's side, No. 7 BYU earned a return trip to the championship meet with a second-place finish in a strong field at the Mountain Regional. In addition to the two automatic qualifying teams, the region will be sending four at-large qualifiers to the national competition.

Coach Patrick Shane Considers the Title Run

"It's going to be a great matchup," Shane said, looking ahead to the championship meet. "There are at least three teams that could easily win it; it's really that close."

Shane believes Colorado's Kara Wheeler is arguably the best runner in the country this year, and Stanford brings a very talented team into the race. He also sees Wisconsin as a legitimate contender if they can put together a solid team race. But despite his reluctance to admit it, Shane's BYU team is in a good position to defend its title from a year ago.

"We have yet to talk about winning the national championship," Shane said. "Everyone realizes the possibility is there, but we have chosen not to dwell on it as a goal. We'll take care of the day-to-day work, and the national championship will take care of itself."

Coach Ed Eyestone Comments on the Men's Race

First-year coach Ed Eyestone, who won an individual cross country national championship while running for BYU, is confident his team will make a strong showing at the NCAA meet.

"We definitely want to improve on what last year's team did," Eyestone said. "Right now we have good depth, we've worked hard, and we're really starting to gel and come together as a team."

Eyestone feels the key to this race for BYU will be the team's ability to stay together and run as a pack. The Cougars have two All-American contenders in junior John Hedengren and freshman Josh Rohatinsky. But without a single senior on the team, BYU will need a group effort from a strong core of underclassmen if the Cougars are to finish with the frontrunners.

"We are a predominantly young team," Eyestone admits, "but we have seven guys who, if they put it together, can make a legitimate run at the top five. If our three through seven runners stay together, we'll be in good position."

Final Thoughts

The BYU men are making their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. After making it to the finals last year, the Cougars struggled through illness to finish in 30th place. This year's team is poised to make a strong showing at the NCAA meet and erase any bad memories from a year ago. The Cougars have been ranked in the top ten in the country since jumping into the poll at No. 9 after the first week of the season.

The BYU women's team features two returning All-Americans in senior Sharolyn Shields-Thayer and junior Tara Northcutt. Shields-Thayer finished 23rd at last year's NCAA meet, and also recorded a 13th-place finish at the 1998 Championships. Northcutt was the third BYU finisher in 1999, crossing the line in 17th place. In addition, senior Tara Haynes was the fourth BYU finisher on the 1997 team that won the national championship, and sophomore Sarah Ellett was the sixth Cougar to finish in last year's meet.

BYU was ranked No. 1 for four weeks this year, but in the end all the numbers up until this point won't make much of a difference in the outcome of the final race.

" The only ranking that matters will be Monday at about 11:30," said coach Shane, "and we're excited to find out how good we are."

The 2000 NCAA Cross Country Championships will be run at the Iowa State University Cross Country Course in Ames, Iowa. Start time for the women's 6,000-meter race is 11:00 a.m. with the men's 10,000-meter race to follow at 12:15 p.m.