PROVO, Utah – The gun sounded the beginning of the BYU Autumn Classic and with it – what BYU head coach Patrick Shane expects to be – the best BYU women’s cross country season in a decade.
“Overall, in my opinion, it’s a good, well developed team,” Shane said. “One of the best we’ve had in 10 or 12 years or more – it’s a really strong, deep cross country team.”
If today’s home meet versus local contender Weber State is any indication, Shane may be right. What started as an almost pedestrian pace for the Cougars, with only freshman Erica Birk penetrating the lead pack of four Wildcats, finished with a 25 over 32 point BYU victory.
“We tried to hang back for the first mile,” Shane said. “Then I just asked them to go match up, and they did.”
Weber State’s Ellie Child and Hailey Whetten took an early lead during the first mile, with teammates Jamie Stokes and Paige Dilmore just a stride behind, Birk tangled inside. Five meters to the rear, BYU’s pack of Jennica Redd, Emma Gee, Yesenia Silva, Natalie Shields-Connolly and Carrie Jube looked strong and patient as Child and Whetten ticked off lap one in just under six minutes.
Yesenia Silva and Redd returned fire during mile two, breaking up the group of Wildcats and taking control of the pace. Rather than keep in pace with the gaining Cougars, Child broke away for an impressive 20 meter lead, coming in at mile two seven seconds ahead of teammate Jamie Stokes, who led the shifting pack of runners.
New freshman Emma Gee emerged during mile three, shifting place for the cougars and solidifying what would be the final result of a Cougar win.
“I was really impressed with Emma,” Shane said. “She’s a great addition to the team, and we’re excited to have her, along with Yesenia Silva and all the other new members of the team.”
As the field rounded the track to finish the race, Child still leading and Stokes kicking hard to close the gap, the pack filed out and left team scores to the fastest finishers. Shields-Connolly and Jube overtook Whetten and Dilmore, putting all five BYU scorers ahead of Weber’s numbers three and four and finishing within 5.7 seconds of each other, an unprecedented spread that should make any future competitors sweat.
“Our team’s looking really strong this year,” team captain Redd said. “We’re a lot deeper than last year now, so we hope to repeat the conference title.”
The Autumn Classic was the debut meet for more than half of the Cougar’s top-seven: Shields-Connoly returns this year after redshirting last season, new freshmen Gee and Alice Jensen are just out of high school and new transfer Silva joins the Cougars from a junior college in California.
“I’m very happy and grateful to be here at BYU,” Silva said. “It’s definitely an adjustment training and competing at this altitude, but so far I’m loving it.”
The Cougars will compete in two weeks, Sept. 19, in Spokane, Washington, against conference foes as part of the WCC Preview meet.
Complete Results can be found on Runnercard.com.