PROVO, Utah - Cross country championship season is officially underway this week as the No. 5 BYU men's cross country team heads to Portland, Ore. to compete in the West Coast Conference Championships.
There are eight other teams competing at the race, but BYU and No. 17 Portland are the two teams to keep an eye on.
"It'll probably be kind of a dual meet between Portland and us," head coach Ed Eyestone said. "Gonzaga has a few good athletes and maybe there are one or two good athletes from the other schools, but in terms of team matchups, it's pretty much us and Portland."
Until the most recent USTFCCCA Coaches' Poll, the Cougars and the Pilots were ranked third and fifth, respectively, in the nation. After the Cougars' took second at Pre-Nationals a couple weeks ago, they moved down two spots. That same weekend, the Pilots placed 12th overall at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, causing them to tumble from fifth to 17th in the national rankings.
Despite the shakeup in the standings, this weekend's race still features two of the most talented teams in the nation. The newly formed conference rivalry between BYU and Portland adds another dimension to the race. In 2011, the Cougars won the championship in their first season in the conference, dethroning the Pilots who had won an astounding 32-consecutive WCC titles. The race was extremely close, with BYU barely edging Portland by seven points. Eyestone said this year's race will be just as competetive.
"They're a very good team and we respect them," Eyestone said. "We realize that it's going to be us against them and that our guys have to perform very well for us to win the meet."
The Cougars will be helped in that regard by the return of senior co-captain Rex Shields, who was recovering from an illness during the Pre-Nationals meet and did not race. Eyestone said with Shields back in the lineup, his team has to be ready to put forth its best effort during the last month of the season.
"We need guys to step up now that we're entering the championship portion of the season," Eyestone said. "I'm confident they can do that. We'll work hard this week and go into the race and hopefully be at our best."
The men's race begins Saturday at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore. at 9:45 a.m. PDT.
Results will be posted here as soon as they are available after the race.