The No. 5 BYU men’s cross country team, fueled by Jason Witt’s first-place finish, captured the West Coast Conference Championships on Saturday, Nov. 2.
After Witt led the entire 8K race on Pepperdine University’s campus, he was passed by two runners in the final lap. Scott Fauble of Portland pulled away toward the end, but Witt soared back to win by fractions of a second at the finish line.
“I didn’t feel like I was slowing down,” Witt said. “I saw them getting out to a lead, I just wanted to save my energy for the last 400 meters and give myself a chance.”
The saved energy gave him the victory as he accelerated down the final stretch. As Witt led the way, a pack of teammates trailing close behind kept together and had great races of their own. All five Cougar runners finished in the top eleven of the field.
“It was a nice overall team performance,” said head coach Ed Eyestone. “I’m just impressed by the fact that so many of my guys put themselves in the race from right at the gun. We felt like if the pace was honest, we felt like we were the better team.”
On Saturday, Eyestone’s team proved to be the best team in the WCC for the second time in the last three years.
BYU finished the race with 30 points. No. 6 Portland came in second with 48 points, and Loyola Marymount finished third.
The fifth, sixth and seventh place finishers were respectively Steve Flint, Tylor Thatcher and Thomas Gruenewald of BYU. Spencer Gardner completed the race in 23:50 for the fifth scored spot for the Cougars and the eleventh overall. Witt crossed the line first for the Cougars with a time of 23:14 to earn his first personal win of the year.
“This has been a big goal of mine all season,” Witt said. “I’ve been open about it. When people ask me what my goals are, I say winning the conference meet has always been top on my list. There’s a lot of excitement that comes from achieving that goal.”
While Eyestone’s squad ran away with the top finish, Patrick Shane’s women’s team got tangled up in a tiebreaker that didn’t go its way in the end.
No. 17 San Francisco finished in first with 39 points. BYU and Portland both scored 62 points in the 6k race, so the tiebreaking decision was based on the teams’ top runners. Portland’s third runner finished 12th overall compared to BYU’s third runner, which finished 13th, giving Portland the second-place slot.
“We ran really well. I am really proud of how each one of the girls battled,” Shane said. “Our goal was to beat Portland, and we had the same exact score.”
Andrea Nelson Harrison was the first Cougar to cross the finish line, with a time of 21:25, finishing seventh overall. Harrison, along with ninth-place finisher Natalie Shields, earned spots on the WCC All-Conference team. Sarah Yingling’s 13th-place finish set a personal career best and gave her conference Honorable Mention.
“I’m proud of them; we ran hard and did our very best,” Shane said. “It doesn’t hurt our chances to go to nationals at all. We need to get ready for our regional meet in two weeks.”
Both men’s and women’s teams will compete in the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships on Nov. 15 in Ogden for their chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships later this month.