SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The No. 28 BYU women’s cross country team put itself on the map by placing fourth at the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.
Led by sophomore Natalie Shields, the Cougars finished better than four ranked opponents en route to their upset finish: No. 4 Duke, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 20 Butler and No. 30 Princeton. The 5k race featured 198 women from 24 schools around the country. Top-seeded Florida State won the event, with No. 15 New Mexico finishing second and conference foe No. 24 San Francisco coming in third.
“We exceeded expectations today in every way,” BYU head coach Patrick Shane said. “(Natalie) Shields had the best race she has ever had as a BYU athlete, and to finish fourth here was a testament to the girls’ willingness to believe that they can run with anyone.”
Shields finished 15th overall with a final time of 17:27.92, but her team’s ability to compete as a whole earned them the fourth slot in the end.
“This was a big day for our team and we raced together, our focus has been on finding each other in the race to race together and we did that,” Shields said. “This meet made us all really excited and we have made huge improvements since last year.”
BYU’s Nicole Nielsen finished 31st with a time of 17:44.33, and fellow Cougar Andrea Nelson Harrison placed 37th just behind her at 17:48.18. BYU’s fourth scored racer was Sarah Yingling who finished in 43rd with a time of 17:52.80. The last to count for the team was Makenna Smith, who ran in 18:05.37 and earned the 61st place spot.
The Cougars were without top runner Lindsey Sowards Nielson after early congestion on the track took her out of a good position and eventually out of the race. Two teammates, Smith and Rachel Stewart, took this as a chance to pick up their game and help their squad recover.
““I can’t say enough about Smith and her doing what she needed to do,” Shane said. “Smith and Stewart picked up the slack when a teammate went down. They did that and it really helped us. This race was a group effort.”
The team now looks towards its upcoming Oct. 15 trip to compete in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational.