FROM THIS EARLY vantage point, it would appear we could very well see the NC State squad repeat atop the podium. Yet we’re a long way from November, and in the thousands of miles between here and there, a lot could happen. So take these predictions for entertainment or for inspiration—just don’t take them for gospel.
1. NC State
The buzz about the defending champions is that Laurie Henes’ squad is not just a solid favorite, but possibly one of the best NCAA teams of all time. Up front are two heavy hitters: Kelsey Chmiel and Katelyn Tuohy. Either could win the individual crown. Sam Bush and Heather Holt also ran on the winning bunch last fall. A 15:35.55 performer, Bush is the ACC 5000 champ, and Holt has 16:20.91 chops. The Wolfpack cupboard gets even deeper: Maria Howlett (33:45.29); Nevada Mareno (4:13.49); Brooke Rauber (Pan-Am Junior XC champion in HS); Jenna Schulz (16:22.30); Savannah Shaw (15:33.42); Marlee Starliper (4:37.76 HS mile). Factor in newbies Hannah Gabes — the New Zealand U20 XC champion — and Grace Hartman (4:46.11) and the Wolfpack might be unbeatable.
2. Oklahoma State
Only 13th last year, Dave Smith’s Cowgirls return all of their heavy hitters and bring on an intriguing list of newcomers. Team leader Taylor Roe was 5th last year. Gabby Hentemann was 6th in the track 10,000. Molly Born has run 33:10.77. Sivan Auerbach (4:17.13) and Heidi Demeo (16:34.64) could also contribute. New on campus is last year’s top prep, Natalie Cook, the holder of the 5000 HSR at 15:25.93. Then there’s Billah Jepkirui, a Kenyan who has reportedly run 1500 in 4:11. More of an 800 type, Anne Gine Løvnes comes from Norway with a 4:21.14 PR. Other promising recruits include Cayden Dawson, Payton Hinkle and Aubrey O’Connell.
Runners-up last year, Diljeet Taylor’s squad lost some big names, including champion Whittni Orton and Anna Camp-Bennett (12th). Two-time All-America Aubrey Frentheway leads a solid group of returnees that includes McKenna Lee, Lexy Halladay and Anna Martin. New on the roster, East Tennessee transfer Lindsey Stallworth (38th in ’21), as well as Jenna Hutchins, who ran a then-HSR 15:34.47 and won the ’20 RunningLane race. Other top recruits include Utah state XC champ Addi Bruening, California runner-up Riley Chamberlain, and Eastbay finalist Taylor Rohatinsky.
4. New Mexico
Third last year, coach Joe Franklin’s Lobos return 5 of their 7, but will need to focus on staying healthy through the season, as they don’t appear to have the depth to weather very many landing on the disabled list. Emma Heckel (18th last year) and Gracelyn Larkin (21st) lead the team. Abbe Goldstein and Amelia Mazzie-Downie led a 1-7 sweep at the Mountain West last fall. Both should help, as well as Eritrean Semira Mebrahtu and All-America steepler Elise Thorner.
The Buffs, 4th last year, lost plenty of big names: Abby Nichols, Rachel McArthur, Micaela Degenero and Madie Boreman. Yet Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs have always been adept at rebuilding. Top returnee is Emily Covert, 31st last year as a frosh, who took 4th in the track 10,000. She will lead returning teammates India Johnson and Hannah Miniutt, both sub-34 types over 25 laps. Two big transfers will help: Ella Baran was the DIII Indoor mile champ and has covered 5K in 15:49.09. Bailey Hertenstein was the Big 10 Indoor 3000 champ for Indiana, with a 5K best of 15:38.01.
Coach JJ Clark lost Julia Heymach and Christina Aragon from last year’s 6th-place squad, but has restocked quite well. Lucy Jenks is the top returnee, and ran 15:41.13 in the spring. Both Grace Connolly and Audrey Suarez had solid track seasons while Michiganders Zofia Dudek and Audrey DaDamio spent the spring getting healthy. And 4:14.43 performer Melissa Tanaka made the NCAA 1500 final. New to the team are Julia Flynn (4:37.73 mile), Australian Nicola Hogg (4:15.13), Caroline Wells (16:16.02) and Eastbay finalists Ava Parekh and Riley Stewart. Super 800 recruits Juliette Whittaker and Roisin Willis both ran serious XC as preps.
7. Notre Dame
Chris Neal takes the coaching helm of last year’s 5th-place team. All-Americans Maddy Denner (9th last year) and Olivia Markezich (11th) return, along with Erin Strzelecki and Katie Rose Blachowicz, Newbie Charlotte Bednar brings a 10:06.14 PR at 2M, while Kate Wiser was a Foot Locker finalist. And the transfer scene has been very healthy for the Irish. Canadian Siona Chisholm (ex-BU) was 7th in the World Junior 3000. Kate Thronson (ex-Tennessee) was All-SEC in the steeple.
The Huskies, 11th last year, return 5 of 7 from their NCAA squad, led by Haley Herberg, who made All-America in the 10,000 in June. Coach Maurica Powell brings on an impressive bunch of new faces. New recruits from the prep scene include a pair of Eastbay finalists in Ella Borsheim and Sophia Nordenholtz, as well as Chloe Foerster (4:40.27) and Josephine Welin (10:03.72 for 3200).
In what will be Lance Harter’s final season of coaching, the Razorbacks bring back just three of last year’s 8th-place squad. Of the returnees, Isabel Van Camp finished highest at 37th. She’s joined by Julia Paternain and Gracie Hyde. Taylor Ewert has returned to racing after nearly a year off with a win in the season opener at Oklahoma State. Other promising team members include Sydney Thorvaldson (all-SEC in three events last spring) South African Carmie Prinsloo, plus 4:42.91 miler Allie Janke. New from the prep ranks are Mia Cochran (4:39.23) and Anastacia Gonzales (4:44.87).
Last year the Crimson Tide placed just 15th, and most of that team is gone. Two All-Americas return, but they’re big ones: last year’s runner-up, Mercy Chelangat, and Flomena Asekol (29th). Jami Reed was also on that squad, and ran 4:38.93 indoors. Amaris Tyynismaa missed last fall but in the spring NCAA XC that year she placed 3rd, and looked to be close to her bet form in track. New recruits include Dutch triathlete/steepler Jasmijn Bakker (9:55.17 st), Kenyan Hilda Olemomoi (16:07.40) and Kate Dickman (4:45.82).
Others To Watch:
Colorado State, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Wisconsin. ◻︎