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Having finished third behind Northern Arizona and Colorado at the Mountain Region Cross-Country Championships last weekend in Logan, BYU would seemingly be facing long odds to win the 2016 Division I NCAA Men's Division I championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday.
But a closer look reveals that the Cougars might be a bona fide contender for the national championship. That's because the finish in Logan mirrors the national rankings: NAU is No. 1, Colorado is No. 2 and BYU was No. 3 before dropping to No. 4 this week.
The men's and women's national championship races will be held Saturday at Wabash Valley Family Sport Center at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. Utah colleges will send four teams BYU's men and women, Utah's women and Southern Utah's men and two individual qualifiers, Utah State's Dillon Maggard and Weber State's Ellie Child.
"It is going to be tough toughest race of the year with the strongest competition and the most teams we've faced in one swoop," BYU coach Ed Eyestone said in a school news release. "If the guys can run and execute as they have all year, then we will be in a good position."
Eyestone said about seven teams, including the aforementioned and Stanford, Syracuse, Arkansas and Iona will vie for the title.
BYU is led by senior Nicolas Montanez, who was fourth in Logan. Freshman Brayden McLelland, junior Spencer Hanson, sophomore Clayton Young, senior Mitchell Briggs and sophomore Rory Linkletter (who didn't race in Logan) will represent the Cougars in Indiana.
BYU's women, ranked 28th nationally, finished fifth at regionals and received an at-large bid to nationals. They are led by senior Yesenia Silva, who was 20th at regionals.
"We have to put our best foot forward and hopefully things come together," said BYU women's cross country coach Diljeet Taylor.
Utah's women are ranked 27th and were fourth in Logan, a spot ahead of BYU. The Utes are making their second straight appearance at nationals, and are led by seniors Giselle Slotboom and Dana Snell, juniors Hannah McInturff and freshman Poppy Tank.
"We are incredibly excited to be back," said Utes coach Kyle Kepler. "We are going to try to go out and prove some people wrong and finish higher than we are ranked."
Southern Utah's men's team, ranked 25th, is making its third straight trip to nationals, and fourth overall. The Thunderbirds are led by Josh Collins, who was 11th in Logan. Matt Wright was 12th.
"There's a sense of accomplishment within the program," said coach Eric Houle. "With the team culture the way it is, I think we're set up to compete at the national level."
Utah State's Maggard was eighth in Logan, the top male finisher from the Mountain West Conference, while Weber State's Child, the Big Sky Conference women's individual champion, was ninth.
Cross Country Championships
P At Wabash Valley Family Sport Center, Terre Haute, Ind.
Saturday at 9 a.m. (women) and 10 a.m. (men) MT
Local competitors • No. 4 BYU men, No. 28 BYU women, No. 27 Utah women, No. 25 SUU men and individual qualifiers from Utah State (Dillon Maggard) and Weber State (Ellie Child).