COVID-19 stops 2020 cross country season, can’t stop BYU runners

The NCAA officially postponed the upcoming fall cross country season in August, causing disappointment for a BYU team coming off a historic 2019 season that brought the Cougars their first national championship in program history.

Even with the pause in competition, BYU head coach Ed Eyestone isn’t going to let the disappointment keep his athletes off the track.

“We’re still running every day,” said Eyestone. “They haven’t really cut their mileage down at all. We still meet every day. I need to keep the guys fired up and keep their eye on the prize.”

More than 50 percent of competing schools decided against playing this fall, which was the threshold at which the NCAA decided to cancel the national championship in November. The season was tentatively pushed to the spring, but nothing is guaranteed.

The BYU cross country coaches and athletes met together on Sept. 3 to discuss plans and goals moving forward. Coach Eyestone spoke with his athletes about focusing on what is certain, instead of all of the uncertainty that has filled 2020.

“What we’re certain of is that we have very talented athletes and we are the defending national champions,” Eyestone said. “As we focus on that certainty, it’s really not that difficult for my athletes to maintain motivation.”

The BYU cross country teams in 2019 with their men’s national championship trophy and women’s national runner-up trophy. The Cougars are using their championship defense as motivation to stay focused and prepared for next season, whenever it may be. (BYU Photo)

Because of the global pandemic, the NCAA is allowing senior athletes another year of eligibility in their respective sports. However, with graduation plans and future careers ahead of them, many seniors are choosing to bypass this option and move on from their collegiate sport. One of the team’s captains, Jacob Heslington, has decided to finish his BYU career, while other seniors’ decisions are still on the table.

“We’ll make that decision according to what is best for the student athlete,” Eyestone said. “It will be a case-by-case basis.”

This uncertainty has not lowered the team’s expectations for the future by any means. When asked about the upcoming season, Eyestone responded positively and mentioned Conner Mantz and Casey Clinger as runners to look out for in 2021.

“I think we’re actually a better team this year than we were last year,” Eyestone said. “We’re a little deeper and a little stronger.”

In the meantime, BYU athletes will continue to focus on what they can control by training as usual. They are following their regular schedules of two runs a day, strength training and daily contact with their coaches.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Eyestone said. “Hopefully we’re able to have some incarnation of the cross country season in the springtime. If that’s the case, then our guys will be ready to run.”

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