BYU athlete Erica Birk-Jarvis confers with her Coach Diljeet Taylor during a recent indoor track meet.

PROVO — The NCAA track and field West Preliminary Round starts Thursday in Sacramento with BYU sending a program-high 59 athletes to the three-day event that ends Saturday. Furthermore, the Cougars have the highest number of combined entries to the NCAA West Prelim.

The top 12 finishers in each event at the NCAA West Prelim will advance to the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 5-8 in Austin, Texas. Based on current rankings, the Cougars currently have 18 entries ranked in the top 12 in their respective events.

“We’re excited about the prospect of taking 59 athletes to the regional meet,” said BYU track and field coach Ed Eyestone. “We’ve got the most combined athletes qualified in the entire NCAA. It’s mission accomplished as far as getting athletes to the meet and now the important step is to have them finish in the top 12 in their events.”

In the regional meet, the No. 6 BYU men’s track and field team will feature 34 of its athletes in competition, with 14 earning top-12 seeds. All-Americans Connor McMillan (No. 1), Rory Linkletter (No. 2), Conner Mantz (No. 3) and Clayton Young (No. 4) headline the top four runners in the 10,000-meter in the NCAA this season. In the 5000-meter, Mantz and Young are ranked Nos. 3 and 5 in the nation. All-American Matt Owens (No. 3), All-American Clayson Shumway (No. 5) and Jake Heslington (No. 8) will be competing in the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase.

From the BYU women’s team, 24 athletes will be competing, with six ranking in the top 12. Headlining the BYU women’s team is All-American Andrea Stapleton-Johnson who ranks No. 1 in the NCAA in the women’s high jump. The other top-seeded athletes are Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes (No. 2) in the 800-meter, Brenna Porter (No. 4) in the 400-meter hurdles, Erica Birk-Jarvis (No. 5) in the 3000-meter steeplechase, Whittni Orton (No. 5) in the 1500-meter and Anna Camp-Bennett (No. 6) in the 800-meter.

Eyestone expects that Cougars currently ranked in the top 12 will perform up to ability and advance, but he also hopes that those outside of the top 12 can improve their standing.

“That’s a great goal for anybody — to improve on their position coming in,” Eyestone said. “It will be a great performance if an athlete can come into this meet and improve on their position. What makes this meet special is when we get surprises from athletes rising up at the most important meet of the year and qualifying for the NCAA Championships."

While BYU is the overwhelming leader in sending athletes to the West Preliminary, other local programs will be represented as well.

Utah State will be sending 17 athletes to the competition, with 11 qualifiers coming from the men's side and the other six from the women's. Ranking highest for the Aggies are junior Sindri Gudmundsson, who is seeded No. 6 in the javelin, and Brenn Flint, who is seeded No. 12 in the shot put and will also compete in the discus.

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Southern Utah will be well-represented in the event sending 13 athletes from both the men's and women's teams. Top athletes for the Thunderbirds include George Espino who is the No. 10 seed in the 800-meter.

Weber State will be represented by nine athletes led by Nathan Dunivan, the No. 9-ranked discus thrower.

Utah Valley will send eight athletes led by Albert MacArthur who is ranked No. 14 in the triple jump.

Utah will send seven women athletes to the event, led by Sarah Feeny, who is seeded No. 4 in the 1,500-meter.