BYU senior Whittni Orton walks away from the stretch en route to first place at the NCAA National Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, Fla. On Saturday, November 20, 2021 (Nate Edwards, BYU Photo)
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PROVO – Whittni Orton’s college career has turned left, right and backwards during his tenure at BYU.
The senior, however, finished in the best place: in the lead.
Entering the last cross-country competition of her varsity career, Orton finished for ages at the NCAA Championships, rallying second in the last mile to win the 6K women’s individual title in 19 minutes, 25.4 seconds to Apalachee Regional Parking in Tallahassee, Florida.
Orton’s title is the first in BYU women’s cross country history, and when added to Conner Mantz – who won a second straight NCAA title for the first time in BYU history – the duo became the first pair of champions from the same school since 1988.
The product Panguitch High who won four state titles in cross country and track and field, three in basketball and two in volleyball, ran sparingly during the 2021 season due to injuries and recovery after finishing 17th in the 2020 Spring Championships in 20: 35.6.
A year after grief at the Nationals and a week after retiring from the NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Provo to rest, the 5ft 7in Harrier has reached the top of his sport’s college climbs then that she planned to overcome the challenges of the past calendar year.
“It really fueled me a lot,” Orton told ESPNU last year. “I’ve thought about it a few times, not just today but throughout the year. I think the backhand helps the comeback.”
The BYU timekeeper in perseverance doubled as he exited the lead.
Orton ran for second in the last mile, punctuating a BYU team that was only following North Carolina State. The eldest kept her focus on the front of the field with 1km to go, then kicked in to end all finishing kicks as she passed Kelsey Chmiel of Caroline State du Nord – the leader of the headwind early on – and has never regretted his four-second victory. finalist Mercy Chelangat of Alabama, reigning individual champion.
It was a stretch Orton first ran on Saturday – but time and time again in his mind all week.
“I’ve been visualizing it for days now,” she told ESPN as she was surrounded by her teammates. “I kind of stopped myself from thinking about it; you can’t think about it or bad things are going to happen. It was a crazy time for sure.”
The state of North Carolina won the tag team title, followed by reigning national champions BYU, New Mexico, Colorado and Notre Dame.
Orton led a second place for the Spring 2020 National Champions, who secured 12th place from Anna Camp-Bennett and 38th from Aubrey Frentheway.
Camp-Bennett, the BYU senior of Millard High who won the national track title in the 1,500-meter race, finished in 19: 39.3. Frentheway, a junior from Cheyenne, Wyoming, was 38th in 19: 55.7.
McKenna Lee of North Ogden and Sara Musselman of American Fork rallied outside the top 100 early to finish 46th and 53rd, respectively, in 20: 02.0 and 20: 08.6 for the Cougars.
Alison Pray of southern Utah was 20th in 19: 47.2 in the individual run. Summer Allen of Weber State was 35th in her third NCAA Championship, finishing in 19: 54.3 for her second All-American status. His Wildcat teammate Billie Hatch was 59th in 20: 12.0.
Bella Williams of Utah led the Utes to 20th overall with a 51st-place performance in 20: 07.9 – the second-best result in Utes’ cross country history.
Utah State’s Katie Struthers was 81st in 20: 23.9, helping the Aggies to place 28th on the team.
Men’s 10 km race
On the men’s side, Conner Mantz forced an incredibly quick start to Apalachee before leaving the field in the dust for his second straight individual title – the first to accomplish the feat in BYU history.
Mantz drew half a dozen competitors into the “Mantz Zone” with a rapid pace at the start of the first 5K. But the reigning individual champion has reached another level with 1K remaining.
In the final meters, only Campbell’s Athanas Kioko tried to hang on to Mantz. But the Smithfield native found an even higher speed, immediately surpassing his only competition in the final to win his second straight title.
“Kioko made it a tough series, and I knew if I stayed with him I could have him in the last 100 meters,” Mantz said after the race. “When he slowed down, I knew it was my time.
“I had a really hard climb, then I enjoyed the last 100 meters of the descent.”
The Mantz 28: 33.1 set a course record, and he’s the only NCAA runner to win two individual titles in the same calendar year. BYU has won four individual men’s titles in the sport – Mantz has two, one more than his trainer Ed Eyestone (1984).
“Eyestone has now coached three national championships so I guess he has four,” Mantz joked with the ESPNU show.
Mantz’s back-to-back individual titles are the first in the sport since Oregon’s Edward Cheserek won three in a row in 2013-15.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in his unique achievement; For the first time ever, the NCAA National Championships were held the same year after all fall sports in 2020 were pushed back to the spring, followed by a more “normal” season in the fall.
Just like seven months ago, however, the “normal” race belonged to Mantz. The Sky View product edged Iowa State finalist Wesley Kiptoo by more than five seconds.
“It’s kind of fun,” Mantz said. “COVID was permanently suspended last year. It was kind of fun coming back and competing on the grass again at a national championship. It’s just interested.”
Mantz could have turned pro after a stellar season a year ago, but after an eighth place finish at the US Olympic Trials, he decided to return to college for one more season before signing a lucrative shoe deal.
The Cougars are happy he did – even though his rivals like Kiptoo, Kioko, Stanford’s Charles Hicks and Michigan State’s Morgan Beadlescomb in the top five aren’t.
“I went on this adventure knowing that maybe one, two or four of these guys could beat me today,” Mantz said. “But I just needed to focus on the process.
“As long as I gave it my all, I was going to be perfectly happy with the race. I remembered that before the race, during the race.”
Northern Arizona placed three in the top 11 for the Lumberjacks’ second straight tag team title, followed by Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Stanford.
Casey Clinger added a top 10 for BYU, which finished seventh on the team. American product Fork finished in 28: 55.7 with a strong opening split of 2: 22.1 and an even better final kick of 2: 53.2.
Brandon Garnica added a 54th place for the Cougars in 29: 41.8, Lucas Bons was No. 102 in 30: 10.1 and Garrett Marsing was 118th in 30: 20.7.
Christian Allen of Weber State was 16th in 29: 17.0, joining his wife Summer with All-American status for the second time in his career.
Christian Ricketts of southern Utah was 71st in 29: 56.6 to lead the No.24 Thunderbirds.