BYU Women's Cross Country 2021 Season Review
PROVO, Utah — No. 4 BYU women's cross country capped off an impressive season that included three first-place team finishes with a runner-up finish and individual title at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
"For me, the thing that I'm the most proud of is how present the women stayed in the process of just continuing to get better," said BYU head coach Diljeet Taylor. "We weren't where we wanted to be in September. We weren't where we wanted to be in October. But on that one Saturday in November, they rallied together and gave their best performance."
- Third-straight podium finish at NCAA Cross Country Championships
- Fourth-consecutive WCC Championship
- Three All-Americans
The Cougars finished on the podium in each of the six meets that they raced in, beginning with the Autumn Classic hosted at Timpanogos Regional Golf Club in Provo and ending with a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Tallahassee.
"I think our highlights of the season were what we just did on Saturday (at Nationals), and that's the best way to end it," Taylor said.
BYU entered the season as the reigning National Champions and came into this year's NCAA Championships ranked fourth in the nation. At the first split, about four minutes into the race, the Cougars found themselves in 14th place. Led by the the USTFCCCA Mountain Region Coach of the Year in Taylor, they quickly made up ground.
"I was super proud of that effort and the fight, to not panic, stay completely calm and run within themselves," Taylor said. "They fought for every single point. They weren't holding their position, they were gaining positions and just fighting for points. That makes me really proud, how much they were willing to fight for each other. They just did a really good job of shutting out the outside noise and focusing on what we as BYU could do and that resulted in an NCAA runner-up finish, so I'm super super pleased with that."
|FSU XC Open||1st||24|
|Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational||3rd||152|
|NCAA Mountain Regional||3rd||107|
|NCAA National Championships||2nd||122|
BYU was paced by an upperclassmen-heavy team that contributed to last year's 2020-21 NCAA title and returned for another year with that experience, totaling 19 top-10 finishes throughout the season.
Whittni Orton highlighted the Cougars' senior class, taking first at the FSU XC Open and WCC Championships on her way to the school's first ever women's individual national title.
Whittni Orton Notes
- Finishes BYU career as three-time All-American
- Named NCAA Division I Women's Athlete of the Year by the USTFCCCA
- Named USTFCCCA Mountain Region Women's Athlete of the Year
- Named USTFCCCA NCAA Division I Women's Athlete of the Week (Sept. 20)
- Named WCC Women's Runner of the Month (September)
- Named to All-WCC Women's Cross Country First Team
On the men's side, BYU's Conner Mantz also took home an individual NCAA title, helping the Cougars etch their names in history. With both Mantz and Orton hoisting trophies, BYU joined Indiana as just the second school ever to sweep the individual Division I titles. The Hoosiers did so in 1988.
Orton, who raced in just three meets this season, but won each of them, spoke highly of Taylor and how she managed her training throughout the year.
"She's always had my best interest," Orton said. "Ever since my freshman year she's been putting me in a good situation to be successful. There's honestly no chance I could be here without her. It's very bittersweet to have this last meet with her, but there's no better way to finish it. The mental and physical progress that I've been able to make just this season has been incredible, and a lot of it is because of her."
Taylor reflected on the three BYU seniors, including Orton, who utilized the remainder of their NCAA cross country eligibility this season.
"For Anna Camp-Bennett, Sara Musselman and especially Whittni Orton to have their final career race in a BYU uniform and go out how they did, with the impact they've made on this program, it really made me super proud as a coach," Taylor said.
Also finishing runner-up in 2019 before winning it all in 2020, BYU has finished on the podium in the last three NCAA Cross Country Championships.
"Our win was Whittni winning," Taylor said. "That was obviously a huge win, but our win was also how we carried ourselves through the season and how we showed up on Nov. 20. I'm really proud of that NCAA runner-up finish. I know that what we've done collectively as a group over the last three years, we are the only program to do that, so I'm super proud of those back-to-back-to-back podium finishes. That is hard to do."
With a few upperclassmen set to return next year and a handful of underclassmen who were able to gain valuable experience this year, Taylor and the Cougars look for continued success in 2022.