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The pandemic initially threatened the BYU women’s cross-country season. Instead, it ushered in a national championship.

Coach Diljeet Taylor played a big role in keeping the Cougars’ spirits up through the uncertainty and getting them ready for the big stage.

(Jaren Wilkey | BYU) Aubrey Frentheway, left, competes in the NCAA cross country national championships March 15, 2021 in Stillwater, Okla.

In 2019, the BYU women’s cross country team finished second in the NCAA Championships. The Cougars knew they had come a long way, but felt they could go further.

They were ready to do just that when the pandemic threatened their 2020 season. Luckily, the season was not completely scrapped, just postponed.

And once the Cougars got the green light, they pounced.

BYU nabbed its fifth national title in program history at the 2021 NCAA Championships, in Stillwater, Okla. last month. The Cougars finished with a team score of 96 — 65 points better than second place North Carolina State.

Aubrey Frentheway, who was the second Cougar to cross the finish line and finished 15th overall, said nearly having the season taken away helped the team to reach its goal this year. While they waited to see what would happen, coach Diljeet Taylor kept telling the team to be ready for whenever the moment to race again came.

“I think it honestly helped a lot, for me, to have that taken because then, when I got the opportunity again, I knew how important it was,” Frentheway said. “Sometimes you can forget that you were just given every chance to race all the time. Having it taken, and then just knowning that whenever we get that back, we’re going to give everything we have because we don’t know — it can be taken so easily.”

Frentheway said, had it not been for Taylor, the team may not have been able to have the success they did this season. The associate director of cross country and track and field was supportive and patient with her team as they all navigated the pandemic together.

It was no surprise for Frentheway when Taylor was named the National Coach of the Year. Frentheway said she was very happy to see her coach earn the “well-deserved” award and was grateful to have Taylor as her coach because she makes a huge difference.

“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other women,” Taylor wrote in a tweet. “Those women are my team and they won me this award.”

The Cougars were able to secure their national title by having three top-20 finishes. BYU was the only team that was able to get their five best runners across the finish line in the top 40.

Senior Anna Camp-Bennett moved up four spots in the final kilometer of the 6K to cross first for the Cougars and take 11th place (20:28.3). After Frentheway’s 15th place finish, senior Whittni Orton (20:35.6) finished 17th overall.

Senior Sara Musselman (20:51.3) placed 33rd overall while junior McKenna Lee (20:59.9) finished 41st, one spot away from All-America status. Junior Haley Johnston (21:38.0) placed 115th and true freshman Lexy Halladay (22:14.6) finished 184th overall to round out the seven BYU runners.

The Cougars’ national title is the first since 2003, when they won their fourth title in a six-year span (1998, 2000, 2002, 2003).

With a second-place finish and a championship in consecutive years, could this be a resurgence of BYU dominance? Frentheway said she hopes so, but doesn’t know.

“I thin we just all are grateful for the chance that we had to win and then, just going into these next couple of years, just always being grateful for that, but also just putting our head down and working hard and not really worrying about the outcome, necessarily, of any other races,” Frentheway said. “But just put our heads down and work hard, because then the outcome will work itself out.”

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