BYU’s mens and womens XC running titles make history

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Whittni Orton led BYU women’s cross country to a runner-up finish, also taking home an individual title, the first individual NCAA women’s cross country title in school history, in the 2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships at Apalachee Regional Park on Saturday.

Orton ran with the front pack of the top-4 runners for the majority of the race, breaking off at the 5K mark as she approached the hill leading to the finish line.

The senior from Panguitch, Utah, would go on to beat Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat, the reigning individual champion, by nearly four seconds. Her 6K time of 19:25.4 is the second fastest all-time at Apalachee, beating a time of 19:26.2 set in 2014.

BYU totaled 122 points to finish second behind NC State’s 84. The Cougars finished above fellow Mountain Region teams New Mexico (130) and Colorado (130), who took third and fourth, respectively.

At the 2020-21 NCAA Cross Country Championships held earlier this year, Orton led the pack before dropping into 17th place toward the end of the race. 

“That definitely fueled me a lot,” Orton said to BYU. “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.”

Orton is the first BYU woman to win an individual NCAA cross country title in school history. On the men’s side, Conner Mantz won the individual title for the second-straight year, the first repeat champion since 2014-15.

It is just the second time in NCAA history, however, that the two individual champions have come from the same school. Michelle Dekkers and Robert O. Kennedy from Indiana accomplished the feat in 1988. 

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