Cougars XC teams finish strong at nationals

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BYU's Tylor Thatcher led the way for the Cougars in the 2013 NCAA Cross Country National Championships. The men's team finished fourth overall in the nation and the women captured the 28th spot in their event.
BYU’s Tylor Thatcher led the way for the Cougars in the 2013 NCAA Cross Country National Championships. The men’s team finished fourth overall in the nation, and the women captured the 28th spot in their event.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The No. 8 BYU men’s cross country team finished fourth in the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Nov. 23.

The Cougars were led by seniors Tylor Thatcher and Jared Ward, who both received All-American honors for the second time in their collegiate careers. Thatcher and Ward finished first and second for BYU and 21st and 36th place finishes overall, respectively.

“We had some guys come through and had great finishes,” Thatcher said. “Overall it was pretty good. Our goal going into it was to get on the podium, and we are very excited to have accomplished that goal.”

The third runner to finish for the Cougars was Jonathan Nelson, who placed 68th in the overall field. West Coast Conference individual champion Jason Witt finished in the 87th slot overall. Spencer Gardner took 118th and was the final scored runner for BYU.

“I’m proud of the way the guys hung in there to get a podium spot,” head coach Ed Eyestone said. “Tylor Thatcher really rose to the occasion, and we benefited from having Jared Ward back. He gave it his all. It’s always good to finish on the podium.”

Colorado won its fourth national championship in program history with 149 points overall. Northern Arizona captured second place with 169 points, and Oklahoma State finished third with 230 points. BYU came in fourth place with 269 points, earning its second podium finish under Eyestone. The team also finished fourth in 2011.

The No. 30 women’s cross country team raced to a 28th-place finish of its own in the women’s national championship event, led by Andrea Nelson Harrison’s 86th-place finish.

“Overall we feel like we achieved our goals this year of getting to nationals, and we know we are a good team and we proved it here,” head coach Patrick Shane said. “There are over 300 NCAA D1 teams that want to be here, and we were 28th. We feel pretty good about that.”

Sarah Yingling finished second for the Cougars and 151st in the field. Natalie Shields and Makenna Smith finished third and fourth for BYU and 166th and 220th overall, respectively. Lindsey Sowards Nielson crossed the finish line in 227th place and was the final scored runner for the Cougars.

This year’s women’s team consisted of a mix of older, experienced runners with a few fresh faces. After finishing 28th in the country in 2011, the team failed to qualify for nationals in 2012. During this rebuilding season, the team put individual records and placements aside and strove to run as one during each race. Competing in Saturday’s race put a stamp of success on the team’s report card for the year.

“This was a season of trying to come back from a low point of not going to nationals last year,” Shane said. “It was so much fun to coach those girls; they wanted to go to nationals, and they worked so hard for it and we got in. Then we proved ourselves and showed that we belonged here.”