It’s been an extremely gratifying outdoor track & field season for former Sky View and current BYU stars Brenna Porter and Conner Mantz.
For the second straight year, both athletes have qualified for the NCAA Championships, a four-day meet that will start Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Mantz and Porter have some unfinished business to attend to, namely garnering first-team All-America honors for the first time during the outdoor season.
This is Porter’s final chance to be a first-team All-American in her signature event, the 400-meter hurdles. The senior will compete Thursday night and will be looking to secure one of the eight spots — there are 24 competitors in each individual event — to Saturday’s finals.
“Obviously I’m really motivated to achieve that goal,” Porter said. “It’s been something that I’ve been working toward all four years. It’s something I have written down on a piece of paper above my bed. But I’m just going to do what’s in my control at nationals and if that’s good enough (to be a first-team All-American) then I’ll be satisfied.”
Like Porter, Mantz made his debut appearance at outdoor nationals a year ago, which was a remarkable accomplishment, inasmuch as it was about 10 months after he completed his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Ghana.
The son of Joanna and Robert Mantz struggled a bit for his standards at this meet last year as he finished 22nd in the 10,000. The sophomore is looking for some redemption this time around, plus is hungry to help his team bounce back from a rough 2018 outdoor nationals meet. The BYU men are currently ranked fourth nationally and the top four teams will earn a spot on the podium.
“We’re very motivated to come back and show that we deserve that ranking and will do our best to get a podium finish as a team,” Mantz said. “Personally, I’m very motivated because last year ... I just had a very poor performance, and I want to come back from it and do my best.”
Indeed, it’s been a very special spring for Mantz and his fellow distance runners at BYU. For starters, Mantz and five of his teammates punched their ticket to nationals in the 10,000, which is a NCAA record for most entries in a single event. Additionally, the Cougar men had four qualifiers in the 3,000 steeplechase and two in the 5,000, including Mantz.
“To be a part of that was very special,” Mantz said. “We have a lot of guys who’ve worked super hard all season long, and we’ve pushed each other each and every day. So when I crossed the line and looked back and saw that we had six guys who also qualified (in the 10,000) those were some of the best feelings that I’ve had at BYU.”
Securing a berth to nationals in the 5,000 and 10,000 is a tremendously challenging task, but Mantz pulled it off. The Smithfield native finished fifth in the 10,000 at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships on May 23 in Sacramento, California, and placed fifth in the 5,000 two days later.
“It’s great,” Mantz said. “I feel like qualifying in one event, it always takes a toll on your body, so to come back and qualify in a second event meant a lot. We did have a few guys pull off the double last year and they had some poor races at nationals, so I’m hoping that I can be able to just bounce back and do my best.”
Mantz’s success this spring should come as no surprise, though, because he’s been sensational throughout the 2018-19 academic year. The former Herald Journal Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year started off the academic year by propelling the Cougars to the runner-up trophy at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Mantz was BYU’s top performer at the meet as he finished 10th and covered the 10-kilometer course in 29 minutes, 17.1 seconds.
It was also a memorable indoor track season for Mantz, who was a first-team All-American in the 3,000 and a second-team All-American in the 5,000. He finished seventh at the NCAA Championships in the 3,000 (7:56.72) and 10th in the 5,000 (13:51.45).
Mantz is guaranteed of becoming a five-time All-American this academic year, which is a exceptional achievement. The former Gatorade Utah high school Athlete of the Year in track and cross country has the third-best times nationally this season in the 5,000 (13:29.73) and 10,000 (28:18.18).
When asked about his primary goals this week, Mantz said he wants to finish in the top three in Thursday’s 10,000 and make sure he doesn’t lose to anyone not in a BYU jersey. The mechanical engineering major hopes to place in the top six in Saturday’s 5,000, but at least secure a position in the top eight, which would entail scoring points for his team.
Mantz was inspired by watching Utah State’s Dillon Maggard garner first-team All-America status in the 5,000 and 10,000 a year ago, and referred to the accomplishment as “pretty remarkable.” Maggard followed up his bronze medal in the 10,000 by placing sixth in the 5,000 two days later.
So which event does Mantz enjoy more?
“Well, I’ve always thought the 10K was my race, even in high school,” Mantz said. “And when I came to BYU, I asked coach (Ed) Eyestone what he thought of me doing the 10K. But as of recent, the 5K has felt better; it’s felt easier, I’ve had better performances in it. So I don’t know which is going to be my best placement at nationals. ... I really do like both of the races now. I think they just both have a very different feel to them.”
The names of Mantz and Porter are littered throughout the BYU record books. Mantz ranks second in program history in the outdoor 5,000 (13:29.73) and sixth in the 10,000 (28:18.18). Additionally, he currently holds down the No. 3 position in the indoor 5,000 (13:39.27) and No. 5 spot in the 3,000 (7:50.90).
Meanwhile, Porter is BYU’s record-holder in the 400 hurdles as she lowered a 20-year-old record last month with a 56.89 clocking. The senior is part of two Cougar record-setting relay teams during the indoor season — the 4x400 (3:40.79) and distance medley squad (10:54.14) — and ranks second in the indoor 400 (53.90) and eighth in the outdoor 400 (54.50).
Indeed, Porter has shined during her time in Provo.
“My time at BYU running track has been life-changing,” Porter said. “I mean, I’ll remember these times for the rest of my life. The running part has been incredible ... but the experiences we’ve been able to be a part of as members of the BYU track team and the (road trips) that we’ve been able to experience, the relationships we’ve made have been, I’d say, equally as impactful, if not much more, than the running itself.”
A year ago, the daughter of Jody and Brett Porter competed in the 400 hurdles and 4x400 relay at outdoor nationals. The Lady Cougars ran a similar time in the 4x400 at West Prelims this year, but the field was extremely deep.
“It’s definitely sad that the 4x400 didn’t qualify, just because being a part of a team event is so special and so exciting,” said Porter, who finished 18th in the 400 hurdles and 20th as part of the 4x400 at nationals last year. “And the energy you get when you’re running a 4x400 and running for each other is an energy that honestly I don’t feel in any other event, just when you’re running for something a little more than yourself. But it will be fun just to put all my effort and focus into the 400 hurdles and do the best that I can, and also have fun with it.”
The long-time North Logan resident has certainly been peaking at the right time as she finished fourth in the 400 hurdles at the West Prelims with a time of 56.98. Porter will be squaring off against an impressive and balanced field this week as the top 14 women in the event are separated by a second (56.11 to 57.10). Porter, who is still the Beehive State’s all-classifications prep record-holder in the 300 hurdles (41.54), ranks 11th.
Breaking the 57-second barrier in the 400 hurdles has, so far, been the highlight of Porter’s senior season.
“Every year I’ve had the goal to eventually break 57, but I didn’t really tell people about it and I wasn’t sure if I would get it,” said Porter, who served a mission to Paraguay. “And this year I just decided to stop being scared about the what ifs — if I wasn’t able to achieve it, or what other people would think or pressures of people holding me to it. And I just decided to go for it since it was my last year ... and I wasn’t afraid to just set my goals a little bit higher, and I think that’s what made all the difference.”
The 2013 Utah Gatorade Female Track Athlete of the Year will finish her collegiate career as a five-time All-American. Porter has been on a trio of BYU distance medley relay teams that garnered first-team accolades. Porter and the Cougars were the silver medalists in that event this past indoor season.
Like Mantz, Porter made it a point to thank her teammates, coaches and parents for helping her develop into an elite athlete. Porter saved his biggest praise for her family “for believing in me every single step of the way and being so supportive because it’s not like I was running amazing in every meet. ... It’s definitely a process. I definitely recognized that their support for me wasn’t conditional and that made it so much easier for me to have big goals and to shoot for my dreams, even when it didn’t seem like I had it in the bag.”
Porter graduated this past semester with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She will move to Washington, D.C., in the near future for her student teaching. The former Herald Journal Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year is considering competing at the USATF Outdoor Championships, which will be held from July 25-28 in Des Moines, Iowa.