RIVERDALE – In his first race back after regaining eligibility, Jared Ward finished fourth overall to lead the No. 5 BYU Men’s Cross Country team to a fourth-place finish in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 15.
“It’s fun to be back with the team,” Ward said. “It’s fun to see the support of the fans and even the competition. I felt pretty good, even better than I thought that I would. We took care of business today.”
No. 2 Northern Arizona and No. 1 Colorado finished first and second respectively and both received an automatic bid to compete in the 2013 NCAA Championships on Nov. 23. By finishing outside the top two in the field, BYU hopes for an at-large bid for its chance to compete next weekend.
“We held out a few of our runners so they would be rested,” head coach Ed Eyestone said. “Anytime you do that it creates a little bit of an element of uncertainty because you’re not going full strength. I was really happy with our top three who will be running at nationals. The big question of the day was how would Ward respond. I think we learned that at a sub-max effort he’s very capable of running with the lead pack. I think Witt and Thatcher ran very well, very controlled also. I was happy with that.”
Jason Witt and Tylor Thatcher finished respectively second and third for the Cougars and 18th and 19th overall. BYU’s fourth runner to finish was Taylor Farnsworth, who earned the 32nd spot overall. Curtis Carr became the fifth scored runner for BYU when he placed 36th in the field.
The men’s team finished the day with a total of 109 points, leaving it 30 points behind No. 11 New Mexico, which finished third.
In Ogden, the women’s team ran for a third place finish of its own in regional competition behind a strong performance by Andrea Nelson Harrison.
“We ran the best race we have won all year and Andrea had the best race of her life,” head coach Patrick Shane said. “I feel really good about our performance today.”
Harrison finished ninth overall as No. 10 Colorado and No. 8 New Mexico finished first and second, respectively. BYU’s third place finish did not qualify for an automatic nationals bid.
Lindsey Sowards Nielson was the second Cougar across the finish line and the 16th overall. Teammates Natalie Shields and Sarah Yingling finished third and fourth for BYU and 22nd and 25th overall, respectively. Nicole Nielsen finished 37th overall and was BYU’s fifth and final counted runner.
Both the men’s and women’s teams await the official news on Saturday evening of their potential selections for at-large bids to participate in the NCAA Championships next weekend in Indiana.