A Matter of Trust - Y Magazine
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A Matter of Trust

NCAA cross country team BYU

The women’s cross country team celebrates their second national championship in three years. Running as a pack, five BYU runners placed in the nation’s top 26 and earned All-American awards.

By Michael W. Middleton

For most intercollegiate teams, winning two NCAA championships in three years would border on miraculous. But for the BYU women’s cross country team, it was simply a matter of trust.

“This is the finest team I’ve ever coached,” said head coach Patrick Shane, after BYU claimed the 1999 national championship last November 22 in Bloomington, Ind. “Preparing for nationals this year, we asked the athletes to focus on trusting themselves, their coaches and teammates, and the Lord.”

In 1997 the team won the first NCAA title ever held by a BYU women’s team, and they claimed it by the slimmest of margins, beating favored Stanford, 100–102. In a sport where the lowest total wins, this season’s title-winning score of 72 opened a 53-point margin of victory over second-place Arkansas (125). Stanford was third at 127.

Not only did BYU achieve one of the best team scores in NCAA history, but every one of BYU’s top five runners placed in the nation’s top 26. Fittingly, all five earned All-America honors.

The Cougars were led by seniors Elizabeth Jackson and Kara Ormond, who finished eleventh and sixteenth, respectively. For Jackson, the 1999 U.S. national steeplechase champion, it was an appropriate ending for her remarkable cross country career. “It was amazing to accomplish something like this with such close friends,” Jackson said. “When I saw the big Y flag about 800 meters from the finish line, I told myself ‘You’ve got to go, now, for your team!'” Finishing in a time of 16:59, Jackson became the first BYU athlete ever to win four cross country All-America awards.

Ormond, who was a junior college national cross country champion at Ricks College, was also running for her teammates. “The team motto of ‘trust’ was something we all lived by,” she said. “It just became part of us.”

With the exceptional depth of this year’s team, Coach Shane’s strategy was for BYU’s runners to stay close together as long as possible, establishing a proper pace and drawing strength from each other. At this year’s Mountain West Championship, the first five finishers were all Cougars, and BYU won the conference title with a perfect score of 15. They also dominated the NCAA Mountain Region Qualifying Meet, where Cougars claimed five of the top six places.

“We couldn’t have won without all working together,” said sophomore Tara Rohatinsky, who placed seventeenth. “When you get beyond relying on yourself and begin to rely on your coaches, your teammates, and the Lord, you realize that individual accomplishments are only part of the equation.”

Despite the large field of 254 runners at the national meet, the Cougars continued their tradition of saying the word “trust” to each other whenever they were within earshot during the race. “Even when I couldn’t see my teammates, I could feel them there,” said junior Sharolyn Shields, who finished twenty-third.

With 600 meters remaining in the race, the announcer reported that Arkansas led the team standings, with BYU a distant second. Like BYU’s competition, he never saw the Cougars coming, and coming all together. Remarkably, BYU’s five scored runners all finished the five-kilometer course within 18 seconds of each other.

While the team’s closeness comes from time spent together talking, traveling, and training, it also stems from their shared values and beliefs as Latter-day Saints. Because the day prior to the race was a Sunday, the Cougars departed from their typical day-before-the-race routine. While their competitors took training runs or scouted the course, BYU’s runners attended church, read the scriptures, and spent time with parents and family members.

team embraces after race

BYU runners embrace after the race. Trust – in themselves, each other, and the Lord – was the team’s motto.

The Cougars, who spoke to hundreds of LDS youth at a fireside on Saturday, saw their day of rest as a tremendous advantage. “I will never forget the night before the race,” said sophomore Laura Heiner, who finished twenty-sixth. “We got together that evening and talked about what it meant to be a part of this team, sharing our thoughts and testimonies. We knew something special was going to happen.”

Also competing at nationals for BYU were freshman Sarah Ellet (58th) and senior Susan Taylor (107th). With a returning team that includes four of the NCAA championship team and other talented team members who didn’t run at the national meet, BYU will be good again in 2000 and for the foreseeable future.

Over the past 19 years Coach Shane, the 1999 NCAA cross country Coach of the Year, has built a program that attracts the best LDS athletes from around the world and others who share their values. In the last five years, in addition to their two national titles (1997, 1999), they have finished second (1998), third (1996), and fourth (1995) in the nation.

“We can see the pattern and we like it,” BYU President Merrill J. Bateman said at the team’s annual banquet. “Tonight, as we watched the video highlights of your race, my wife leaned over and told me, ‘We’re going next year.’ We want to be there when you win another national title.”

When they do, the championship trophy will be only part of the reward. “When you win a national championship, that’s supposed to be the pinnacle,” Coach Shane said. “While reaching that goal together was a wonderful experience, I don’t think there’s one athlete on this team that would trade her relationship with her teammates for our national title. For me it’s a powerful testimony of what happens when a group of worthy young women trust each other and wait on the Lord.”