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BYU Cross Country Athletes Claim Men’s and Women’s National Individual Titles; Women’s Team is Runner-up

BYU cross country teammates Whittni Orton and Conner Mantz claimed the 2021 women’s and men’s NCAA cross country national titles on November 20, 2021. Image courtesy of BYU Photo, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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By Jason Swensen, Church News

There are a few things that can be chalked up as absolutes: Water is wet. The sun rises in the east. Taxes, of course. And, more and more, a growing certainty that if the NCAA hosts a cross country national championship, a Brigham Young University athlete (or two) will be on the winner’s podium.

The BYU women won the 2020 iteration of the national championship in the team competition. That same day, Cougar runner Conner Mantz, a returned missionary from Smithfield, Utah, claimed the men’s individual title.

On Saturday, November 20, the NCAA hosted the 2021 national championship — and, once again, BYU athletes climbed atop the podium. Mantz and his Cougar teammate, Whittni Orton, won the men’s and women’s individual titles, respectively.

Their victories marked just the second time that both NCAA Division 1 cross country champions came from the same school. Robert O. Kennedy and Michelle Dekkers of Indiana did it the first time in 1988.

Last April, the Church News published a story on the remarkable success Latter-day Saints enjoyed in distance running. Saturday’s national competition added a new chapter to that success story.

Mantz secured his claim as one of U.S. college cross country running’s all-time greats by defending his national title. He broke the finish line tape with a personal best and course record 10K time of 28:33.

Conner Mantz, a BYU runner and returned missionary, won his second consecutive NCAA cross country title on November 20, 2021, in Tallahassee, Florida. Image courtesy of BYU Photo, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

He is just the 11th athlete in the 80-plus years of NCAA cross country competitions to claim a second national championship.

Mantz, who stepped away from distance running a few years ago to serve a mission in Ghana, ran in the lead or at the front of the pack for most of the race, held in Tallahassee, Florida.

“The race started out and I knew it was going to be quick,” Mantz told BYU news services. “This was probably the best start I’ve ever had in a cross country race.”

Mantz pulled away after several minutes, along with Iowa State’s Wesley Kiptoo and Athanas Kioko of Campbell. In one final surge on energy when nearing the finish, Mantz pulled away from the others.

“As soon as (Kioko of Campbell) slowed down, I made a really hard surge and just kind of enjoyed the last 100 meters down the hill,” he said to BYU news series.

As a team, the BYU men finished seventh Saturday in the national championship race. Mantz’s teammate and fellow returned missionary, Casey Clinger, also claimed All-American honors after finishing eighth.

The Cougar men have finished in the top 10 at nationals in nine of the last 11 seasons.

All-American Christian Allen, a returned missionary from West Jordan, Utah, who competes for Weber State University, finished 16th on Saturday.

Orton Builds on BYU Women’s Running Legacy

A senior from Panguitch, Utah, Orton hung with the top four runners for most of Saturday’s women’s race before breaking off at the 5K mark.

She would defeat the reigning individual champion, Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat, in the 6K race — finishing with a winning time of 19:25.

BYU cross country runner Whittni Orton won the NCAA cross country national championship on November 20, 2021, in Tallahassee, Florida. Image courtesy of BYU Photo, courtesy of Church News. All rights reserved.

After winning the 2020 team title, the BYU women claimed runner-up honors in Tallahassee. Orton’s teammates Anna Camp-Bennett and Aubrey Frentheway also raced to All-American honors after finishing 12th and 38th, respectively.

BYU women were not the only Latter-day Saint competitors to finish strong on Saturday. Oklahoma State’s Taylor Roe, who was the 2020 national championship runner-up, finished fifth. In addition, Weber State’s Summer Allen, a returned missionary and the wife and teammate of Christian Allen, secured All-America honors for the second time after finishing 35th.

In the last national championship, Orton led the pack before dropping into 17th place toward the end of the race.

“That definitely fueled me a lot,” Orton told BYU news services. “I did think about it many, many times, not just today but throughout the whole year. I always think that the setback does help with the comeback.”

Married to Mason Morgan and an accomplished all-around athlete, Orton is the first BYU woman to win an individual NCAA cross country title.

After winning the 2020 NCAA cross country national team title, the BYU women’s team claimed runner-up honors in the 2021 race on November 20, 2021. Image courtesy of BYU Photo, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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