Atop the steeplechase: Rooks wins national championship
AUSTIN, Texas - No. 14 BYU men’s track and field wrapped up its 2023 outdoor season in style as Kenneth Rooks was crowned an NCAA champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, launching the team to a 10th overall finish.
Rooks finished in 8:26.17 to become the fourth BYU steeplechaser to win an individual championship, joining the elite group of Kyle Perry (2009), Josh McAdams (2006) and Bob Richards (1966). He is also the first BYU men’s athlete to claim an individual title since Clayton Young in 2019.
The Walla Walla, Washington native maintained a steady pace navigating near the middle of the pack until the final few laps, surpassing Montana State’s Duncan Hamilton on the penultimate lap. The two remained close in the final 400 meters, but Rooks cruised ahead and separated before the final water jump to handily seize his first-ever national title at 8:26.17. Hamilton finished as runner-up at over six seconds behind Rooks (8:32.18).
“I wanted to put myself in the middle or close to the front, be patient and ready when people started to push at the mile,” said Rooks. “When that happened, I was ready to respond. With 600 meters to go, I got lots of speed to go for it at that point.”
The junior is now a three-time steeplechase All-American, claiming back-to-back First Team honors after his sixth-place performance at nationals last season. No Cougar has ever run the steeplechase faster than Rooks in the final round of the NCAA Championships - Rooks’ own 8:22.56, sixth-place finish at last year’s championships stands at the top, followed by his 8:26.17 title run today.
Earlier this season on May 6, Rooks became the fastest American collegiate athlete to run the steeplechase at 8:17.62. At NCAA West Preliminaries on May 26, Montana State’s Hamilton surpassed the time at 8:16.23.
“I respect Duncan Hamilton,” Rooks said. “Him breaking the record [at NCAA West Preliminaries] got me excited to race against him here at nationals. He’s really good. Thankfully today was my day.”
Embracing Rooks near the finish line was BYU director of track and field Ed Eyestone, someone who knows firsthand what it takes to win a national title in Austin, Texas as the 1985 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter NCAA champion.
"Kenneth rose up to the challenge," said Eyestone. "Near the end, he was bold and used his momentum to get the lead. The faster Kenneth went over the barriers, the more smooth his performance was. He hit that last barrier perfect before the last water jump put it away. To see him put it all together and then execute that plan to perfection really is rewarding."
With Rooks' title, BYU is the first school in NCAA Division I history to win back-to-back men's and women's steeplechase titles as Courtney Wayment captured the event's individual championship last year.
Senior Dallin Shurts became the final BYU men’s First Team All-American on the week, bringing the team total to six with a 61.27m/201-0 throw for seventh in the discus. The performance netted him his second All-American honors and first career First Team award. He joins Leif Arrhenius (2011) as the second Cougar to be awarded a First Team All-American discus thrower since the NCAA began distinguishing between First Team, Second Team, and Honorable Mention honors in 2011.
“He had the best warmups of his life today, so I knew he was in shape and doing well,” said assistant throws coach Nik Arrhenius. “I was hoping he would be able to get a farther throw, but to take seven inches is extremely tough. I’m very happy for him and glad we could add another discus All-American here at BYU.”
Two flights of 12 athletes each separated the throwers. Shurts was the only competitor from the first flight to qualify for the final three throws, earning six total attempts. The senior’s best mark came on his first heave of the night.
“It can be tough to wait,” said Shurts. “I was tired during the final three throws, but I felt really good during that first flight.”
Fresh off a podium finish Wednesday at third in the 10,000-meters, Casey Clinger added another All-American award to his collection, this time earning Second Team honors after a 14:12.54 finish in the 5,000-meters. Clinger earned his sixth and seventh All-American honors this week, spread across five outdoor and two indoor.
The senior is also a four-time All-American in cross country.
BYU Men’s Team Finishes 10th Overall
For the first time since 2019 and fifth in the last 32 years, No. 14 BYU men’s track and field has achieved a top-10 placement at NCAA Outdoor Nationals. At 22.5 points, the program has proven it is ready to take on competition in the Big 12 conference next season as only Texas Tech (sixth, 34.5 points) placed ahead of the Cougars among teams in the conference.
"It turned out really well all-around for the entire men's team," Eyestone said. "I'm proud of the way everybody's stepped up as the majority of guys will go home First Team All-Americans. This is certainly one of the times when it's been a real team effort."
Friday’s finish became the 25th BYU men’s track and field placement among the top-10 schools dating back to 1928.
|Final Men's Team Rankings at 2023 NCAA Outdoor Championships|
|No. 5||Arizona State||41|
|No. 6||Texas Tech||34.5|
The USTFCCCA recognized 27 BYU men's track and field athletes with All-Academic honors on July 13.