The men’s and women’s cross country teams both placed first in Saturday morning’s 12th annual Autumn Classic at BYU.
The men’s four-mile race kicked off the two collegiate events as BYU finished on top with 25 points, No. 8 Portland followed in a close second with 33, and Weber State and Idaho State claimed third and fourth, respectively.
The No. 4 nationally ranked men’s team came away victorious after Senior Tyler Thatcher placed first with a time of 19:54 and Senior Jason Witt finished close behind in second. Sophomore Jonathan Nelson passed two opponents in the final stretch to finish fifth, while Junior Spencer Garner and Senior Taylor Farnsworth placed ninth and 10th, leaving BYU with five runners in the top 10 overall.
“It was a confidence booster for our team,” Thatcher said. “After the defeat last year to Portland in conference, we were kind of bummed. We really wanted to prove to ourselves that we are good enough to run with them.”
Thatcher did just that, finishing first for the first time in his collegiate career and leading his squad to another victory in consecutive weeks, following last week’s win at the Utah Open. The friendly but competitive rivalry with Portland was the talk of the race.
“Our expectations were to win,” men’s head coach Ed Eyestone said. “But we knew it was going to be something like this. We felt strong that on our home course at that altitude, we’d have a bit of an advantage. My guys had just a little better last mile than they did, and that made the difference.”
The women’s team won in dramatic fashion, as unofficial results showed Portland on top at the conclusion of the race. BYU’s female squad shouted in celebration and amazement as the official results gave them a two-point victory over Portland.
No BYU women placed in the top four finishers, but the official team motto “Run as One” proved successful as six of them finished in the top 11, ultimately leading to the upset win.
Andrea Nelson Harrison led the way for the Cougars and finished fifth. Lindsey Sowards Nielsen and Nicole Nielsen claimed the sixth and seventh spots. Natalie Shields and Sarah Yingling took the final two spots among top 10 finishers, but the tie-breaking, race-winning performance came from Maren Fassmann’s 11th place title. This tight group of six Cougars kept close enough to force Portland out of contention, securing the top spot.
“When you run together, you’re able to do so much better than when you run by yourself,” Nicole Nielsen said. “When we do that as girls on the team, we become a family and a sisterhood and we’re able to run so much stronger.”
The ladies’ performance met head coach Patrick Shane’s expectations as the pack of five stuck together and executed the game plan through the finish line.
The men’s cross country team now looks forward to the Griak Invitational in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on Sept. 28. The women will travel to South Bend, Ind., to compete in the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 27.