'There's a gang of Cougars on the podium.' This is something that could be uttered at the NCAA Cross Country Championships Monday, if the Brigham Young Cougars bring their A-game.
Fresh off a Mountain Region individual championship that subsequently led his squad to the team title, senior 1,500-meter specialist Miles Batty could lead a Cougar charge that results in a podium finish. In winning the individual title, Batty beat the likes of Southern Utah's Cameron Levins and Northern Arizona's Diego Estrada, impressive feats in a championship setting.
With their automatic-qualifying, and somewhat surprising regional victory over a strong Colorado team, BYU is preparing for putting together their best race of the season. Last year's championships concluded with an 18th place finish, a placing that will almost certainly be improved upon. How much of an improvement depends on that magical 35-minute window on Monday.
"We know what's out there with Oklahoma State and Wisconsin," head cross country coach Ed Eyestone said over the phone Monday night. "That takes the pressure off of the three to seven teams like us."
Flying under the radar simply isn't happening for BYU, as this team has the goods from Batty down the line of scoring runners, and has all year. The only meet they haven't won this year has been a runner-up finish to Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Invitational, where they defeated an Indiana squad that was ranked seventh in the nation at the time.
After Batty, who finished 15th individually last year, the Cougar contingent is comprised of junior Rex Shields, sophomores Jared Ward, Jason Witt, Curtis Carr, and freshmen Steve Flint and Spencer Hanson. Just over two weeks ago this squad ended the Portland Pilots streak of 32 straight West Coast Conference championships in their debut year of joining the WCC, with Batty stealing the individual title and bettering Alfred Kipchumba's course record by 33 seconds.
"We've got a good core of strong guys, who are race-savvy and selfless and we'll run to the best of our potential," Eyestone said. "It will take a very good day for the podium."
Eyestone expects Batty to be a part of the chase pack behind the presumed battle between Arizona's Lawi Lalang and Iona's Lenny Korir, but doesn't rule out Batty's chances of being involved in a kicker's finish.
"It's not our goal to go for an individual championship," Eyestone said. "But I won't rule it out. It's a possibility."