BYU track and field: Putting Cougar women’s remarkable run in context

The remarkable performance of Courtney Wayment in last weekend’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship was a reminder that something special is happening in the BYU women’s track and field/cross-country program under coach Diljeet Taylor.

BYU has now won an individual or team national title in the last six NCAA championship events — for cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track.

Here’s what has happened in the last two years:

2021 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships

Wayment teamed with Alena and Lauren Ellsworth and Olivia Simister to win the distance medley relay with the second-fastest time in collegiate history. Twenty-four hours later Wayment returned to win the 3,000-meter run. The Cougars finished seventh in the team competition. All 29 of the team’s points came from the distance and middle-distance events. Two days later, the Cougars lined up for the NCAA cross-country championships with an entirely different team ….

2020 NCAA Cross-Country Championships (postponed to March 2021)

Because of the pandemic, the 2020 NCAA cross-country championships were postponed. It was someone’s bright idea to reschedule them just two days after the indoor track championships. The Cougars had the depth to create two separate teams — one for the track meet and one for the cross-country meet (none of the team’s scorers in the track championships had any remaining cross-country eligibility anyway). All of which made what happened next all the more impressive. The Cougars routed the field in the NCAA cross-country championships and won the team title. They finished 65 points ahead of their nearest rival — the biggest margin since 2012. The score: BYU 96, North Carolina State 161, Stanford 207. The Cougars didn’t have a single runner finish in the top 10, but five finished in the top 41 — Anna Camp 11th, Aubrey Frentheway 15th, Whittni Orton 17th, Sara Musselman 33rd and McKenna Lee 41st. This came on the heels of a second-place finish in the 2019 cross-country championships with an almost entirely different team, again proving the program’s depth.

2021 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

Camp, who was not included on anybody’s pre-race favorite list, won the 1,500-meter run, claiming BYU’s first outdoor championship since Nachelle Stewart won the 800-meter run in 2012. Camp, a senior from tiny Fillmore, Utah, was clocked in 4:08.53, three seconds under her personal best entering the meet and her second school record in three days. Bolstered by their performance in the distance and middle-distance events, the Cougars finished 10th in the team standings. Camp signed a professional contract after the meet.

2021 NCAA Cross-Country Championships

Orton, a senior from another tiny Utah town, Panguitch, recorded the second fastest time in the history of the NCAA cross-country meet to win the individual championship, covering the wooded, hilly 6,000-meter (3.7-mile) course in 19:25.4 (an average of 5:12.5 per mile). She defeated the next two finishers, Mercy Chelangat of Alabama and unbeaten pre-race favorite Ceili McCabe of West Virginia, by four seconds. Orton is BYU’s first individual women’s cross-country champion. Her win helped BYU finish second in the team competition. Orton signed a professional contract after the race.

2022 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships

Wayment collected her third national championship by winning the 5,000-meter run, besting runner-up and former high school sensation Katelyn Tuohy of North Carolina State. Claire Seymour was second in the 800, and the Cougars finished eighth in the team competition.

2022 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

Wayment ran with the pack for three laps of the 3,000-meter steeplechase and then surged ahead, daring anyone to follow her. No one did. She won the race by a little more than nine seconds and broke the collegiate record by eight seconds with a time of 9:16.00. It also made her the fifth-fastest American ever, college or pro. The Cougars, with another first-place finish from Ashton Riner in the javelin, finished 10th in the team race. Wayment secured her fourth national championship in her final collegiate race. She will turn pro this week.

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BYU javelin thrower Ashton Riner competes in the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships last week in Eugene, Oregon. She went on to place first in the event.

Consider this: In the last six years BYU athletes have collected 82 first- and second-team All-America certificates in track and field, 58 of them distance and middle-distance runners; in the previous six years before Taylor arrived at BYU in the fall of 2016, the Cougars collected 17 such certificates. In cross-country, there have been 13 All-Americans since 2016; there were two the previous nine years.

From 2006 to 2015, BYU’s highest finish in the NCAA Cross-Country Championships was 19th and four times they failed even to qualify for the national championships. In the last three championships they have finished second, first and second. It’s much the same story in the indoor and outdoor track championships.

BYU women have rewritten the record book — since 2017, they have claimed four of the school’s top six times in the 800, five of the top seven in the 1,500, the top two in the steeplechase and the top three in the 5,000. They have set school records in the outdoor 1,500 (several times), the steeplechase (several times), 5,000 (a couple of times), distance medley relay and 4 x 800 relay, as well as the indoor 800, mile, 3,000 and 5,000 and distance medley relay.

“I feel like I’ve done exactly what I came here to do,” says Taylor. “Especially with the three who will follow their dreams and run professionally. … What I’m most proud of is that we did it the right way — breaking records while building women. It has to be about more than just success in the sport; these women have grown and have learned what it means to inspire the next generation.”

With Camp, Orton and Wayment graduated, the next generation will be Jenna Hutchins, Carmen Alder, Meghan Hunter, Lexy Halladay, freshman Taylor Rohatinsky and Riley Chamberlain. Taylor will be tested as she attempts her first real rebuilding project.

“I’m not sure who steps up, but we will need to build again,” she says. “It’s amazing to me that in the last six championships we have had an individual title (or) a team title in every one. So, yeah, it’s time to rebuild.”


Recent BYU distance-running national champions

Courtney Wayment — steeplechase — 2022 NCAA outdoor championships

Courtney Wayment — 5,000 meters — 2022 NCAA indoor championships

Whittni Orton — cross-country — 2021 NCAA cross-country championships

Anna Camp — 1,500 meters — 2021 NCAA outdoor championships

Ellsworth-Ellsworth — distance medley — 2021 NCAA indoor championships

Simister-Wayment— distance medley — 2021 NCAA indoor championships

Courtney Wayment — 3,000 meters — 2021 NCAA indoor championships

BYU team — team championship — 2020 NCAA cross-country championships

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BYU women’s track and field coach Diljeet Taylor gives a hug to Courtney Wayment after she finished first in the steeplechase at the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships last week in Eugene, Oregon.

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