ON THE ONE HAND, it helps that we already have an NCAA Cross Country Nationals run in ’21 — back in March — to inform our analyses of the second calendar-year edition. On the other, the pause put on eligibility clocks by the pandemic introduces another layer of mystery to what is always a crapshoot, sizing up November form in mid-September before teams have shown much of what they’ve got. Anyhoo, here we go…
(Years in school cited here match what the school has reported to TFRRS, the NCAA’s results-reporting service.)
With the 7 who brought home the title in March all still on the roster, Diljeet Taylor’s Cougars chart as untouchable from the vantage point of September. ’21 indoor 3000 titlist Courtney Wayment — 5th in cross in ’19 — rejoins ’20 low sticks Anna Camp-Bennett (11 and NCAA 1500 champ), Aubrey Frentheway (15) and Whittni Orton (17). Leading a well-stocked frosh class are Carmen Alder — with 4:42.45+ and 9:26.51 (3K) track bests — and Ana Weaver, a 2-time Minnesota XC champ who has 2-miled 10:18.84. In BYU’s Alumni Classic opener, Frentheway led a closely-packed army of white & blue with senior Kate Hunter (a 4:13.45 1500 runner) and soph Anna Martin (34:35.75 for 10,000) close behind. Neither raced in Stillwater last March. BYU. Orton won the race 6 days later as BYU took the Florida State Open at the Nationals site.
2. NC State
The Wolfpack, which placed 2nd last time and 5th in ’19, comes in led by Hannah Steelman — 5th back in March 3 days after placing 8th in the NCAA Indoor 5000. All 7 return for coach Laurie Henes, including Kelsey Chmiel (9), Katelyn Tuohy (24) and grad student Dominique Clairmonte (63 and owner of a 32:50.80 PR). Soph Marlee Starliper starred in the mile and 3000 as a Pennsylvania prep and placed 2nd at the ’19 Foot Locker Nationals.
3. New Mexico
Joe Franklin coached squads to team titles in ’15 and ’17, and in March the Lobos placed 6th. Israeli Olympian Adva Cohen (22) and Gracelyn Larkin (25) head a group of 6 returners and recruiting went well. New on the roster are German Emma Heckel, the Euro Junior 5000 bronze medalist, plus transfers Abbe Goldstein (Harvard), who raced 4:10.94 for 1500 over the summer, and Stefanie Parsons, 17th at the ’19 Div. II harrier nationals for Edinboro.
Put more stock in Lance Harter’s team’s win in ’19 than its ’20 placing, 10th. The assessment here turns on that one-off NCAA Indoor/XC weekend last March. Six of the Razorback top 7 are back — and Krissy Gear (21), Logan Jolly (née Morris, 64), Lauren Gregory (72), Gracie Hyde (104) and Kennedy Thomson (193) all ran with tired legs after Indoor finals 2 days before: Gear, Thomson and Hyde 2nd, 3rd & 9th in the mile, Gregory and Jolly 2nd & 9th in the 3000. Then there’s the recruits, including 2020–21 Gatorade harrier of the year Sydney Thorvaldson, Carmie Prinsloo (27 in ’19 World Cross U20 for South Africa & 9:13.51/16:12.57 PRs). Also Taylor Ewert (4:43.78 mile and OT 20K walk 6th).
Three times national champions — most recently in ’18 — the Buffs, guided by Mark Wetmore & Heather Burroughs, placed 7th in March. Reading the tea leaves of its fall ’21 schedule, Colorado looks determined to get battle-tested early this autumn. Another squad with all 7 back gets a boost from Michigan State grad transfer India Johnson (35), who joins 6 top 100 finishers from March. Abby Nichols (18) Elizabeth Constien (72 and the sister of Olympian Val Constien) and steepler Madie Boreman (74) head that group.
Returning the individual national champion from March, Mercy Chelangat, plus the 3rd-placer — Amaris Tyynismaa who was also an OT 1500 finalist as a frosh, Dan Waters’ Crimson Tide team could very well improve on its 8th-place result in March. New soph Flomena Asekol captured 5 JUCO track titles in her time at New Mexico JC, in the indoor 800 and 1000 and outdoor 1500. “This has the potential to be a very special year for us,” said Waters of his class of recruits, “and we can’t wait to get rolling” — beginning, of course, with the harrier campaign.
7. Michigan State
Coach Lisa Breznau’s Spartans placed 4th in March and may be underrated in this spot. Senior Jenna Magness — 16th and also 4th in the NCAA 5000 last spring — leads a cohort of 5 returners that includes Lynsie Gram (34), Makayla Perez (75), Katie Osika (101) and Casey Mossholder (122). Last year’s finish was the team’s highest since winning in ’14. “We just hope to see both teams keep growing,” Breznau said in praising MSU’s former guide Walt Drenth (who retired last November) and the current staff.
Fifth last time — the latest of 3 straight appearances by Sarah Hopkins’ squad, with Minnesota teams having reached the big dance 14 of the last 15 seasons — the Gophers opened up at Penn State’s Spiked Shoe Invitational led by the same trio that formed the point of the spear in Stillwater. That would be Bethany Hasz (8), Abby Kohut-Jackson (45) and Anastasia Korzeniowski (59). The entire top 7 is back. Of the opener, a narrow 3-point loss to Georgetown, Hopkins said, “To race this early against some of these teams is a shock to the system, but they managed it well.”
9. Northern Arizona
With quality and depth approaching that of the vaunted Lumberjack men’s program, Michael Smith’s team features the 7 women who raced to an 11th-place showing in March. In Stillwater, four ran in the top 100 —Taryn O’Neill (6), Delaney Rasmussen (44), Jessa Hanson (79) and Bryn Morley (93); only Rasmussen is a senior. Add firepower from frosh Nikita Moore (80 in the World Junior Cross in ’19) and Irishwoman Stephanie Cotter, who won Div. II crowns for Adams State last school year in the indoor mile & 1500.
The challenge for J.J. Clark’s Cardinal in the coach’s third season at the helm will be replacing low-stick points from graduated Ella Donaghu, who keyed 3rd-place team finishes at the last two Nationals placing 8th & 10th individually. Julia Heymach (13), Jessica Lawson (56 and also 11 in ’19) and Christina Aragon (88) bring experience. Lucy Jenks (92) still has frosh status and Zofia Dudek, another pandemic yearling, placed 156th in March but won the Foot Locker prep nationals of ’19 and a Euro Junior 3000 crown for Poland that year. Ellie Deligianni, Greek and a new frosh, took bronze in the World Junior 800 this summer.
Others To Watch:
Boise State, Florida State, Georgetown, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Washington. ◻︎