It is a showdown that has been brewing all season.
Top-ranked Northern Arizona and No. 2 BYU have played a game of cat-and-mouse the entire men’s cross country season, each team one-upping the other in meets since September.
The Cougars and Lumberjacks finally faced off last weekend at the Mountain Regional in Logan, with NAU winning 49-79, but BYU rested a couple stars and NAU held out at least one major contributor.
Which brings us to Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky.
The men’s 10k race, which begins at 9:45 a.m. MST is for all the marbles and generally is considered a two-team competition between NAU and BYU.
“We are excited for the prospect of a national championship,” BYU coach Ed Eyestone said. “This has been the best year in BYU men’s cross country history thus far. I think we ran just hard enough at the regional championships to prepare us for big things at nationals.”
BYU’s women’s team, ranked No. 14 nationally after finishing third at regionals, will compete in the women’s 6K race at 8:45 a.m. MST.
“We are coming off a good regional meet and heading into nationals with good momentum,” BYU associate head women’s coach Diljeet Taylor said.
BYU’s men’s team never has won a national cross country championship. The Cougars finished second in 1993. Eyestone said this is their best opportunity yet, but NAU is formidable and seen by most national observers as the favorite.
The BYU men’s team consists of Rory Linkletter, Clayton Young, Connor McMillan, Casey Clinger, Danny Carney, Kramer Morton and Jonathan Harper.
The BYU women’s team has won four national cross country championships, the most recent in 2002. Laura Young, Courtney Wayment, Ashleigh Warner, Olivia Hoj, Kristi Rush, Sara Musselman and Whittni Orton will run for the Cougars on Saturday.
Aggies make history, qualify two teams
Utah State never has sent a full team to the NCAA championships, but this year both the men’s team and women’s team qualified.
“It is extremely special,” USU acting cross country coach Artie Gulden said.
The Aggie women were fourth at the regional, and the men took seventh. The men’s team is led by senior Dillon Maggard, who competed individually at nationals last year. The women’s team is led by junior Alyssa Snyder, who claimed three race titles.
Southern Utah men back for fourth straight time
Southern Utah’s men’s team, ranked No. 12 in the nation, qualified for the championships for the fourth straight year, the longest streak in program history. The Thunderbirds placed second behind NAU at the Big Sky championships and were sixth at the NCAA Mountain Regionals in Logan last Saturday.
Utah’s Murphy qualifies again
Utah’s Grayson Murphy will make her second straight appearance at the NCAA Championships after finishing in the top five in every race she has competed in this season. Murphy placed second at the regionals in Logan and was fifth at the Pac-12 Championships. The West High product originally began her college career as a soccer player at Sweet Briar College in 2013 and transferred to Utah from Santa Clara.
Lambert will represent Utah Valley
Tyson Lambert, a senior from Grantsville, earned an automatic bid and will become the second runner in Utah Valley program history to make it to nationals.
NCAA DIVISION I CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
At E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Ky.
Saturday’s women’s 6K race, 8:45 a.m. MST
Saturday’s men’s 10K race, 9:45 a.m. MST
Locals participating • BYU’s men’s and women’s teams, Utah State’s men’s and women’s teams, Southern Utah’s men’s team, Utah Valley’s Tyson Lambert, Utah’s Grayson Murphy.