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

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.

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