“I definitely felt a lot of emotions crossing the line. Definitely felt a lot of gratitude.”
On November 20th, 2021, Whittni Orton Morgan became Brigham Young University’s (BYU) first female winner of the NCAA Cross Country Championship. It was a title that was a long time coming for Orton Morgan.
“I’ve had that goal for probably two or three years…of winning a national title in some event. I wasn’t going to go into any race and not try to win it.”
Not only did she win the race, she did so in incredible fashion, running the second-fastest time in NCAA DI XC Championship history as she crossed the line in 19:25.4. Orton Morgan and her teammate, Conner Mantz, make up the first men’s and women’s winner from the same school since 1988 as Mantz won the men’s 10,000 meter race.
The 2021 NCAA XC Championships marked Orton Morgan’s fourth NCAA XC Championship appearance and her 11th NCAA Championship appearance overall. She is also no stranger to First Team All-American status, a distinction she has earned six times in her collegiate career.
Winning NCAA titles has become a habit for the BYU women, as in the last four seasons (Cross Country 2020, Indoor 2020, Outdoor 2020, Cross Country 2021)they have left the championship meet with some kind of crown. In 2020, the Cougars were the NCAA Women’s XC team champions and the Indoor NCAA Distance Medley Relay Champions. Also in 2020, Courtney Wayment Smith won the Indoor 3000m title and Anna Camp Bennet won the Outdoor 1500m title.
“It’s a special thing that we all got to do that. And we all did it in separate seasons so we were able to cheer each other on through theirs,” says Orton Morgan.
Her time on such a successful team has led Orton Morgan to one key piece of advice for younger runners and herself: don’t compare yourselves to your teammates or competitors. While she, Camp Bennet, and Wayment Smith all have the same distinction of National Champion now, each of their paths to that title was different, and Orton Morgan now knows the value in trusting your own journey.
“Of course, be competitive and stuff. You always should want to win but don't always compare your own journey… Give your best. What you have. If you’re looking at someone else’s best, then you aren’t going to do your best and then you’re never going to know what you have.”
Through the team at BYU, Orton Morgan has met some of her best friends in Wayment Smith and Camp Bennet, but the path to BYU was not always obvious for her. Orton Morgan says she didn’t initially want to go to BYU and wanted to be in an environment that wasn’t governed by so many rules. After her visit, though, the match was undeniable. The feeling that she got from visiting BYU showed her that there was something special going on there and she knew that she had to be a part of it.
From that fateful decision to her national title, Orton Morgan says there are so many people who played a role in what she was able to accomplish. Among these are her family, BYU coach Diljeet Taylor, and, at the top of her list, God.
“I've definitely had a bunch of lows and it is still huge for me, individually, to be able to overcome the things that I did and to come back and be able to do that. It really wasn't just me.”
Orton Morgan’s relationship with God has propelled her to new heights in all aspects of her life. She has consistently included Him in her running, and through that relationship has been made strong enough to achieve the things that she has. Before hard workouts or races, Orton Morgan asks God for the strength that she needs, and it is through this that she has not only excelled in running, but has also built her faith in God in her most vulnerable moments.
“Whenever I've been my happiest self is when I've been doing the things within my faith. Like when I am studying and praying and doing those things, that's when I've been my happiest and that's when I've been able to get through the hard. If I haven't tried to include God in the hard, then that's when it just gets harder. But when I have turned to God in those moments, that's when I felt relief.”
Outside of her faith, Orton Morgan knows it takes a lot to be successful.
Her time in collegiate running has not been easy or a constant stream of healthy races and fast times. But, to run fast and to be successful, she knows that it takes much more than talent: “You just need love, you know? You need to have lots of love, because it really does take more than just being fast, so much more. You have to be happy, you have to be grateful, you have to be humble. There's so many things.”
The NCAA XC Championship race was the last race Orton Morgan will run in a BYU uniform. She is not, however, leaving running behind. After being crowned NCAA Champion, Orton Morgan raced a 5000m at the BU Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener, running a new personal best of 15:09.47.
She is taking a bit of down time now, but will be back on the track at the end of January.
Get to Know Whittni Orton Morgan with Quick Questions:
I take a piece of bread, put a banana in it, and I hold it like a taco and I call it a banana taco. I feel perfectly full. It wasn't too much, and I don't like to be too full when I'm racing. It's really weird
Definitely Oreos. Oreos and milk. I've been into mint Oreos these days.
Affirmations you tell yourself:
There's yeah there's a lot. I like focus on self. It depends on the part of the race too. Patience is a big one, because I've struggled with patience in my career with my racing. I kind of get antsy and it wastes energy so patience is a good one. I also like fight.
Comfort/Favorite TV Show:
New Girl. The characters are so funny on their own.
Favorite New Girl character:
I don't know. That's the hardest question because I always ask people in my which one are you, which one do you relate to the most? And I feel like I relate to Jess and Nick the most, like a mix of those two.
I'm terrible at finishing books. But I like Grit. That looks really good. I also like You are a Badass.
If you asked my husband, I’ve told him 100 times I like The Holiday. That’s just because it’s Christmas. The Holiday is my favorite Christmas movie.
Top Artist for Spotify Wrapped 2021:
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