It’s not official yet, but the Utah State men’s cross country team will surely receive some good news Saturday.
The Aggies placed fourth out of 19 teams in a loaded field at the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships on Friday at the Rose Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City. All five of USU’s scoring runners finished in the top 25, meaning they garnered all-region honors.
It was the Aggies’ best-ever finish at this meet and they should be a shoe-in for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, which will be contested next Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“They just ran really tough and ran together, and they believed,” USU head coach Artie Gulden said in a press release. “The most important thing for today is that we more than likely got through to the NCAA Championships. We’ll know for sure tomorrow, but placing fourth in the Mountain Region and knowing what happened in a lot of the other regions, we should be good to go.”
The top two teams from each of the nine regionals automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships, plus 13 additional teams will be awarded at-large bids. Those at-large bids will be announced by the NCAA selection committee on Saturday at 3 p.m. on NCAA.com.
The three programs that beat the Aggies are the top three ranked teams in the nation in defending NCAA champion Northern Arizona (No. 1), Colorado (No. 3) and BYU (No. 2). The Lumberjacks swept the top three spots and placed all five of their scoring harriers in the top nine en route to easily claiming the title with 21 points.
Colorado edged BYU for second place by three points, 53-56, while No. 20 USU finished well ahead of fourth place Weber State. The Aggies accumulated 106 points to the Wildcats’ 158.
USU was led by Mountain West champion Dallin Farnsworth, who placed 16th and covered the 10-kilometer course in 30 minutes, 53 seconds. The BYU graduate transfer finished 28 seconds after medalist Geordie Beamish of NAU.
The next four Aggies crossed the finish line within 21 seconds of Farnsworth, giving the MW champions a phenomenal spread. Senior Luke Beattie claimed the final position in the top 20 (31:05), and he was followed by sophomore Caleb Garnica (22nd, 31:06), senior and former Box Elder High standout Adam Hendrickson (23rd, 31:07), and senior James Withers (25th, 31:13). Former Mountain Crest star J.D. Thorne also shined for USU as he clocked in at 31:35 and placed 35th.
“I wasn’t exactly sure where the guys were, but when I finished and turned around and saw everyone in the chute, it was exciting,” said Farnsworth, who also earned all-region honors during his freshman season at BYU. “The team has been working really hard this year, and this was our goal. On the back of our shirts it says, ‘Whatever It Takes,’ and today was a testament of that. We did whatever it took to try and punch our ticket to NCAAs.”
Farnsworth and Beattie have been USU’s top two performers all season long, and that trend continued Friday, even though Beattie had to complete the final four kilometers of the race with one shoe. A teammate accidentally stepped on the back of his heel.
“We thought maybe we’d get two or three all-region awards, but to get all five of our scorers in there, it’s pretty wild,” said Beattie, who finished 31st at this meet a year ago. “It shows that we’ve got stuff left for a week from now.”
Once again, BYU was led by former Sky View stalwart Conner Mantz, who powered his way to the No. 4 position with a time of 30:32. The sophomore was the medalist in the Cougars’ first four meets of the year, and finished sixth at regionals a year ago. Mantz garnered All-America accolades as a freshman by placing 10th at nationals.
Ethan Field, one of Mantz’s former teammates at Sky View, represented Idaho State at the meet at placed 106th with a time of 33:47. The freshman was the Bengals’ fifth and final scoring runner.
On the women’s side, the Aggies put together a rock solid performance as they finished ninth out of 19 teams in very, very strong field, and were only two points behind Southern Utah for the No. 8 spot. USU achieved its primary goal by outpointing Mountain West rival Colorado State. The Aggies amassed 269 points to the Rams’ 281.
“The women ran tough,” Gulden said. “We had a goal at conference to beat Colorado State and they got us, and we talked immediately after that race about coming back here and beating Colorado State, and the ladies responded and did that. Finishing top 10 in the region, with how young our team is, is very solid. The ladies really ran hard, and the future is very exciting for them.”
The Lady Aggies were led by Mimi Miyazawa, who was 39th out of 130 competitors. The freshman covered the 6K course in 21:07.
Junior Katie Struthers-Haviland was USU’s next finisher (48th, 21:13), and she was followed by sophomore Mica Rivera (51st, 21:20), freshman Abby Jensen (62nd, 21:34) and senior Josie Givens (69th, 21:47). Sky View product Arianna Steiner, a true freshman, just missed out on scoring team points for the Aggies as she was 72nd (21:51).
USU’s top six athletes recorded a solid 44-second spread.
“I would say it went pretty well. We had a really simple race plan, which was to get out in good position and work our way up from there, and I think our girls did really well doing that,” said Givens, the lone senior on USU’s team. “We’re just such a young team and there are lots of good things to come. I’m so, so proud of everyone.”
New Mexico’s Weini Kelati absolutely dominated the field as the reigning MW champ clocked in at 18:58, which was 57 seconds faster than the silver medalist, teammate Ednah Kurgat. Ketali, a junior, was the runner-up at the 2018 NCAA Championships.
The No. 10 Lobos swept the top two spots, but they were outpointed by No. 3 BYU for the team title. The Cougars, who had three harriers in the top seven, finished with 70 points to the Lobos’ 83. No. 15 Air Force placed third with 107 points, while No. 8 Colorado was fourth with 113.
This deep, deep region also featured No. 9 Utah, which finished fifth, and No. 16 NAU, which placed sixth.