BYU, Ricks run to national titles

Members of the BYU women's cross country team were greeted to a hero's welcome Nov. 25 after becoming the university's first women's team ever to win a national championship.

With the victory, the cross country team also became the first Western Athletic Conference women's team, participating in a WAC-sponsored sport, to win an NCAA championship.BYU coach Patrick Shane was also named NCAA Coach of the Year.

Carrying their trophy, the five women athletes and two alternates walked off the plane in Salt Lake City to a welcome that included a dozen white and blue flags, balloon bouquets and yellow roses. Since only seven of the more than 30 members on the team could participate in the national meet, held in Greenville S.C., on Nov. 24, the others were waiting at the airport to greet their friends.

But the team's biggest surprise greeting came later on Nov. 25 on the BYU campus in Provo.

Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder Henry B. Eyring, both of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder L. Aldin Porter, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy; and Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy and BYU president, left a BYU Board of Trustees meeting - along with several other members of the board - to personally greet the athletes.

"The team was overwhelmed with their homecoming," said assistant coach Gary Preston. "To think those busy men would take time out of their schedules to meet and congratulate them. Nobody will ever forget that."

After a season clouded by several injuries, the team upset defending national champion Stanford, 100 to 102, in the cross country 5K race at the Furman University Golf Course. In cross country, lowest score wins.

Stanford's men's team won the men's NCAA title this year. BYU's men's team did not qualify for the meet.

Courtney Pugmire placed fifth in the competition to lead all BYU cross country runners with a time of 16:58 - 16 seconds faster than any of her other times this season. This was her fourth All-American citation, finishing 12th last season and 30th as a freshman.

Coach Preston said team members knew they had a chance to win the national title and had been working toward that goal all season. However, he added, one of the highlights of the team's trip to South Carolina came before the women ever competed.

The day before the competition, they held a fireside at a stake center in Greenville. More than 500 youth in the area attended. A majority of the women athletes - who are all members of the Church but one - participated in the fireside by giving prayers or talks or putting on musical numbers.

"Walking out of there was just like walking on a cloud," said Coach Preston. "In their mind that was the highlight of the trip."

Coach Preston is now looking forward to another great season next year. The five runners and two alternates who participated in this year's national championships will be back next year, along with several other talented athletes who red-shirted because of injuries.

"I have been doing this for 15 years, and every year I say this is the best team we have ever had," said Coach Preston.

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