Conner Mantz

Conner Mantz, shown here winning the West Coast Conference cross country meet, was the medalist at Monday’s NCAA Championships. Mantz is from Smithfield.

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Conner Mantz has already accomplished more than most collegiate distance runners ever dream of, but one thing eluded him during his first two academic years at BYU — an individual national title.

The former Sky View High School star can now check that off the list.

Mantz blew away the competition over the final three kilometers at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, which took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Smithfield native completed the 10K course in 29 minutes, 26 seconds, which was 22 seconds faster than runner-up Adriaan Wildschutt of Florida State.

It is an incredible achievement for the Smithfield native, who is the first American-born Division I champion in cross country since Galen Rupp in 2008. Rupp, who started at the University of Oregon, was the silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Mantz took the lead around the 7K mark and kept extending it. The son of Joanna and Robert Mantz was in third place for much of the first half of the race, but kept himself within two seconds of the two lead runners.

“(Wildschutt) took it for a couple hundred meters, I took it for about 1.5K,” Mantz told ESPNU. “At about 8.5K, someone yelled at me that I had a lead on the field. I made it a bit early, but I’ve seen 100-meter leads go before — but this was hurting so bad. I was just happy to hold on, and win an individual title for my team.”

Mantz is the third BYU man to capture the individual title at the nationals, joining fellow Utahn Jared Rohatinsky (2006) and current Cougar head coach Ed Eyestone (1984).

“Conner’s performance was otherworldly,” Eyestone said in a press release. “It’s been since 2008 since the last American won the individual title. Once he realized he could use his uphill running talent, he pulled away. He crushed them at the end and it was one of the gutsiest individual performances I’ve seen on the cross country turf before.”

Mantz is now a three-time All-American in cross country as he placed third at this meet in 2019 and 10th in 2018. The mechanical engineering major led the Cougars to their first-ever team title in 2019. Mantz was a four-time first-team All-American and one-time second-team All-American during the 2018-19 academic year in cross country, indoor and outdoor track.

BYU, ranked No. 1 heading into the meet, was a legitimate threat to defend its crown, but some bad luck prevented that from being a possibility. Brandon Garnica, the brother of USU All-American Caleb Garnica, pulled out of the race with about 500 meters to go due to heat exhaustion, Eyestone said. Garnica was in the top 15 at the time and that cost BYU about 100 points.

Regardless, the Cougars would have been hard-pressed to beat No. 2 Northern Arizona, which had four of the top eight scoring runners and destroyed the competition with 60 points to runner-up Notre Dame’s 193. BYU was seventh (259 points).

“I was happy to hold on and win an individual title for my team,” Mantz said in a press release. “My teammates work so hard and we weren’t able to have our best day as a team, but a win for one of us is a win for all of us. I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates for giving it their all today.”

Mantz, a two-time West Coast Conference champion, highlighted a big day for athletes from the Beehive State. For starters, the BYU women easily captured the team title with 96 points to runner-up North Carolina State’s 161. The Lady Cougars had four All-Americans, while Utah and Weber State had one apiece.

Weber State’s Summer Allen finished seventh with a time of 20:23 — the best performance at nationals in school history.

On the men’s side, Southern Utah finished ninth and Utah State a program-record 11th. BYU crowned two All-Americans, followed by SUU and USU with one each.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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