The crisp and refreshing autumn air did little to settle the emotions of the moment.
The scoreboard’s unofficial results declared Portland the winner over BYU. Runners sipped comfort from their cups and said few words to teammates as they awaited the final posting. Words were not necessary — their perplexed faces said it all.
In an instant, BYU and Portland flipped spots on the results board. The new scores gave a resurgent kick to the group of girls as they celebrated their first place finish with screams, smiles, hugs and sighs of relief. The giddy bunch huddled up and put hands together.
“Run as one!” roared the BYU women’s cross country team.
Each summer, the team spends a week before the start of the school year training in Park City, participating in team building exercises and bonding as a group. Head coach Patrick Shane and his wife Karey lead a fireside the first night to set the tone on the season and introduce a yearly theme.
“This year we didn’t have one,” admitted Shane, now in his 34th year of leading the team. “I usually come up with a few ideas for the team to choose from, but this year they thought of it themselves.”
Seniors Andrea Harrison and Lindsey Nielson, team members who stayed in Provo training together over summer, suggested “Run as One.” They found it fitting after doing hill workouts together each day “as one.”
“That set the tone for the year,” Shane said.
After the team failed to qualify for nationals last season and a few key runners graduated, Shane believed this season’s team needed a new identity. The motto has united the girls both on and off the track and made the desired impact throughout the season.
“It puts into perspective what a true team is,” Nielson said. “We’re a team of runners, but more importantly, we’re a team of sisters and best friends.”
In cross country races, one of the main factors is the one-to-five split. As only the top five runners from each team are scored, the distance between them can make the difference. The sixth and seventh runners serve as displacers to bump other teams’ runners out of top spots. The team’s ability to run as one has facilitated improvement and changed the outcome of a few races.
Shane says a 30 second gap between the first and fifth runners is outstanding. Through five races this season, the average between his team’s first and fifth is 23 seconds.
In the Autumn Classic on Sep. 15, senior Maren Fassmann was the sixth runner to cross the line for the Cougars, just 18 seconds after her teammate Harrison finished fifth overall. She displaced two Portland runners and avoided the tie, securing the BYU win.
The mindset to put aside personal aspirations and run for the team is special among this year’s squad. There are no rivalries or runners competing against each other, which is rare for cross country.
“Rather than looking at (teammates) as competition or someone that I have to beat, I feel like I am concerned for their success more than my own,” said senior Sarah Yingling. “There is a much better feel on the team when you treat your teammates like you need them to succeed just as much as you need to perform well to succeed.”
“Everybody runs together,” Shane said. “You can feel that synergism of everybody doing their best in each race to help the team reach its potential.”
As it did months ago in Park City, the team frequently sings the words, “Trust each other, run as one” in a three-part round. Three different melodies come together in a splendor of song. Together with music, a large gray tarp displaying the team’s theme helps unite the girls as they pen a quote or scripture to it weekly.
The song, the tarp, the practice to work together in each race — all of those things are part of the team’s big goal for the season: competing among at nationals in Indiana.
“Our goal is to go to nationals,” Shane said. “They take 31 teams. We want to be one of them. We are fine with being the thirtieth or the thirty-first, but not the thirty-second team that doesn’t get to go.”
The top two teams from each region qualify for the 2013 NCAA Championships. BYU can punch its ticket to the big dance of collegiate cross country races by placing first or second in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships at Weber State on Nov. 15.
The Cougars, currently unranked in the top 30 nationally, will face No. 8 New Mexico State and No. 10 Colorado in Ogden.
Men’s Team Wins WCC Title; regional meet next
Meanwhile, the No. 5 ranked men’s cross country team put together another dominant performance at the WCC championship, winning the conference title for the second time in three years. No. 6 ranked Portland finished comfortably behind BYU in second place and Loyola Marymount finished third.
Senior Jason Witt led the Cougars with a first place overall performance. Witt led for nearly the entire race, but had to catch two runners in the last 400 meters after being passed in the final leg.
“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.”
In order to officially qualify for nationals, the powerhouse men’s team will compete in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships at Weber State on Nov. 15, a meet they are expected to win. The men’s race will be held at 12 p.m. and the women’s race at 1:15 p.m.
The NCAA Championships will be held Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.