It was a much shorter-than-normal season for Utah State’s men’s cross country program, but it sure was a memorable one.
The 21st-ranked Aggies put together the best meet in program history as they finished 11th at the NCAA Championships, which took place Monday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was the best showing at nationals by USU in the team competition, men or women, in school history.
Leading the charge for the Aggies was reigning Mountain West champion Caleb Garnica, who is now an All-American after placing 28th Monday. The junior completed the 10-kilometer course in 30 minutes, 31 seconds, which was 1:05 behind champion Conner Mantz — yes, the former Sky View High star — of BYU.
“I am amazed with the men on this team today,” Garnica said in a press release. “This was our highest finish in USU history and it’s an honor to race with them. Being an All-American has been a goal of mine and to finally achieve it is amazing. It was a fantastic day for all of us, and was a great finish to our long season.”
Two more Aggies were oh so close to securing All-America distinction as Camren Todd placed 42nd in the men’s competition and Katie Haviland 43rd in the women’s. Haviland qualified for nationals as an individual.
The top 40 athletes in each race are honored as All-Americans. Todd, a sophomore, finished four seconds out of the No. 40 position, while Haviland, a senior, was only 2.3 seconds away from accomplishing the same feat.
Of the eight harriers who represented USU at nationals, only Haviland and Haydon Cooper are seniors, suggesting the future is very bright for the Aggies.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” Utah State head coach Artie Gulden said in a press release. “The guys getting 11th is freaking fantastic. We showed tremendous heart and grit. Caleb fought hard and is an All-American. Camren came so close, just like Katie in the women’s race, but the guys did great. Words cannot describe how proud I am.”
Haviland, who Gulden said “ran the best race of her life,” passed at least eight competitors late in the race on her way to a covering the 6K course in 21:01. The Lehi native only finished 60 seconds behind champion Mercy Chelangat of Alabama.
“It was a tough course and that’s definitely the most I’ve ever hurt in a race,” Haviland said in a press release. “I went out wanting to do big things, and even though it does hurt to have come so close to being an All-American, I know I gave it everything I had. It makes me hungry for another chance to compete with the best, and I am really grateful for the experience.”
Cooper was the third Aggie to race his way in the top 100 in the men’s field as he clocked in at 31:28, which was good enough for the No. 92 position. USU’s other scoring runners were Bridger Altice (108th, 31:35) and fellow sophomore Spencer Nelson (138th, 32:05). Nelson is a Mountain Crest product.
There were 237 men who completed the race and 253 women.
Northern Arizona dominated the men’s competition as it had four of the top eight scoring athletes and limited its point tally to an impressive 60. Notre Dame was a very distant second with 193 points.
Three men’s programs in the Beehive Utah finished in the top 11 as defending champion BYU was seventh (254 points) and Southern Utah ninth (270). Air Force, which edged Utah State at the Mountain West Championships, was 19th (464).
BYU handily won the women’s competition as the defending runner-ups finished with 96 points to second-place North Carolina State’s 161. New Mexico was sixth (274), while fellow MW programs Boise State (304) and Colorado State (532) were ninth and 23rd, respectively. This is the 11th straight time the Lady Lobos have placed in the top 10.