CEDAR CITY — Former Panguitch High standout athlete Whittni Orton was recently named Brigham Young University’s female athlete of the year.
Although the announcement of the university’s prestigious Y Awards is usually made at a ceremony held on campus at the Marriott Center in Provo, this year’s winners were announced on BYUtv the morning of May 29 due to coronavirus restrictions.
Since there was no formal ceremony, Orton and the other winners were informed of their awards the day before, she said. Additionally, the BYU women’s cross-country team, of which Orton is a member, was named BYU’s female team of the year, sharing the honor with the soccer team.
“I was a little surprised. I feel like there’s so many great athletes here,” Orton told Cedar City News. “I feel like I’ve had a few really good seasons and I guess that was enough to get me the award, but it was a big honor because it’s very competitive at BYU. I am very grateful to the Lord.”
Orton, a senior who also competes in distance events for BYU’s track and field team, capped off a stellar year in which she set school records in multiple distances during the indoor track season.
Orton also placed among the top 10 individual finishers in the NCAA cross-country championships in Indiana in November, helping the BYU women to a second-place finish behind Arkansas. At that same event, the BYU men won their first national cross-country championship.
“This last season was very special for me,” Orton told Cedar City News. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the years and I feel like I was able to apply a lot of lessons that I’ve learned.”
BYU’s Whittni Orton – fresh off her All-American Cross Country season – shatters the Cougar indoor 5000m school record in the first meet of the year! Stay tuned for more accomplishments this year for BYU Track & Field! pic.twitter.com/5M6azgDusS
— Tom Holmoe (@TomHolmoe) December 10, 2019
Orton’s senior indoor track season included establishing new school records in the 3,000 meters (posting a time of 8:49.63 in Seattle on Feb. 14), the 5,000 meters (15:22.98 in Boston on Dec. 7) and in the mile (4:29.76 in New York City on Jan. 25). Orton also joined teammates Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes, Alena Ellsworth and Anna Camp-Bennett in winning the distance medley relay at the Washington Invitational on Feb. 1, setting a school record of 10:53.95, the fastest NCAA time in the nation this year.
That same foursome also recently received indoor All-America honors from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, while Orton also received individual All-America honors for her performance in the 3,000-meter event.
Just as Orton and her teammates were poised to wrap up the indoor season at the NCAA Division I championships in Albuquerque the weekend of March 13-14, the athletes all got word that the event had been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“When they told us that we had to go home, it was actually kind of traumatic, because we had big goals and we wanted to win,” Orton recalled, saying she wishes the situation would’ve been handled differently, as most of the athletes were already at the venue. “I wish they would have just let us run it, but you can’t change the past. You just accept it and move on, and try to continue to improve.”
In addition to her competitiveness, Orton is known for her versatility. As a four-sport athlete, she helped Panguitch High School to a dozen state championships during her four-year high school career (four track and field, three cross-country, three basketball and two volleyball). She also won the individual state 1A cross-country race all four years, in addition to the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at the state track meet all four years.
Orton’s times have steadily improved throughout her collegiate career. At the end of her senior year at Panguitch High in 2016, Orton’s winning time in the 1,600-meter race at state was 5:05.23.
“Moving into college, I was just trying to break five minutes,” Orton said of her initial goal run to run the mile. The mile run, the only non-metric distance still contested at the collegiate level, is equivalent to slightly more than 1,609 meters.
Orton’s remarkable time of 4:29.76 in the indoor mile in New York in January broke the previous BYU school record of 4:34.59 by nearly five seconds. She became the 82nd U.S. woman ever to run a mile in under 4:30, according to bringbackthemile.com
Orton said it was her performance in the 5,000-meter race in Boston in December that helped set the tone for her indoor track season. Her time of 15:22.98 broke the previous BYU mark of 15:51.02 by slightly more than 28 seconds.
“The 5K was a huge thing for me. It was something I didn’t think I could do. If you were to ask me before that race what I would run, I probably would’ve said … definitely not that!” she said. “I was very pleasantly surprised and I feel like I pushed myself in many ways in that race, and it just set me up for a really good season.”
Although Orton doesn’t have any eligibility left in indoor track, she’ll be allowed to compete one more year in outdoor track next spring, thanks to the NCAA’s extension granting an extra year of eligibility to all spring-sport student-athletes. Orton also still has one more season of cross county eligibility remaining, starting in September when she’ll be in the fifth year of her studies at BYU. Orton is majoring in exercise and wellness, with a double minor in psychology and nutrition.
Orton said she’s already looking forward to next year.
“I feel like I have a lot more in me and I just want to kind of see what that is,” she said.
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