NCAA Cross Country Preview — Women’s Top 10 Teams

The 2022 placings of Laurie Henes’s Wolfpack squad, including transfer Amaris Tyynismaa, added up to 48 points, equal to the second-lowest score in meet history. (MIKE SCOTT)

NC STATE IS SEEKING the first NCAA Cross Country 3-peat since Stanford (2005–07) and their top-to-bottom depth makes them a strong favorite to succeed. With Katelyn Tuohy leading the way, there should be several members of the Wolfpack coming through the chutes early in Charlottesville on November 18. New Mexico and Alabama gave NC State a scare last year, but many of the top returners from those programs have moved to other schools. Among the beneficiaries from those transfers are Northern Arizona and Florida.

1. NC State

After winning their second-straight team title last year, NC State coach Laurie Henes noted that “you don’t have to have perfection to pull it off. And we didn’t necessarily have that today.” And while that victory was closer-than-expected over Alabama, it’s clear there aren’t many flaws to speak of in Raleigh. The Wolfpack’s emerging dynasty is likely to grow at Virginia, with defending individual champion Katelyn Tuohy expected to lead the way. In fact, 5 of 7 from last year’s winners are returning, including Kelsey Chmiel (3rd) and Samantha Bush (15th). As if that wasn’t enough, the program now also includes (since January) Amaris Tyynismaa, 9th last fall for Alabama.

2. Northern Arizona

The Lumberjacks placed 6th in ’22, and return the core of that squad, led by 4th-placer Elise Stearns and Annika Reiss (47th), who later finished 8th in the NCAA Indoor mile. Stearns struggled with injury outdoors, but has returned to form this fall. Additionally, Mike Smith enhanced his roster with transfers Gracelyn Larkin (26th last year for New Mexico) and Ruby Smee (58th, from USF). A dominant September win over several top teams at the Virginia Invitational on the NCAA course (plus an individual title for Stearns) showed this group has major upside.

3. Notre Dame

After a 5th-place finish in ’21 and 7th last year, the Fighting Irish will once again be in the mix. Olivia Markezich led the way a year go with a 9th-place showing, 7 months before claiming the NCAA steeple title. She’s joined this year by twin sister Andrea, a transfer from Washington who’s run 32:50.16 for 10,000. Siona Chisholm was 81st in Stillwater, placed 10th in the outdoor 5000 and has a 15:37.81 PR. She opened her season with a win at the National Catholic invite in September. Also back in South Bend are Erin Strzelecki (54th) and Katie Thronson (68th).

4. Florida

Assuming Parker Valby, last year’s runner-up (and the outdoor 5K champ), is healthy, the Gators should be in the thick of things. Coach Will Palmer, who jumped to Florida in January after guiding Alabama to 3rd a year ago, brought along Flomena Asekol (14th in XC then 3rd in the indoor mile for the Crimson Tide). Also transferring to Gainesville are two members of New Mexico’s runner-up ensemble from ’22, Amelia Mazza-Downie (22nd in XC and 4th in the 10,000) and Elise Thorner (40th, then 5th in the steeple).

5. Oklahoma State

The Cowgirls’ top runner last year, Natalie Cook, transferred to Colorado, but the squad will still have a strong presence up front with Taylor Roe (13th last year, 2nd & 5th before that, and the ’22 NCAA Indoor champ in the 3000). Billah Jepkirui is much improved since her disappointing 151st-place showing last fall, winning Big 12 titles in the indoor mile and outdoor 1500 and placing 5th at NCAA Outdoors. Also back: Molly Born, 16th way back in ’19, who has returned to top form, and Gabija Galvydytė, 74th last time around and the NCAA runner-up in the 800; she represented Lithuania at the World Champs in Budapest.

6. BYU

An early-season win over Oregon at the Dellinger Invite showed the Cougars are on track to improve on last year’s 8th-place finish. Aubrey Frentheway (32nd) and Lexy Halladay-Lowry (34th, then 4th in the NCAA steeple) return for coach Diljeet Taylor, along with Jenna Hutchins, who missed most of the ’22 season but rebounded with a 15:35.73 on the track in the spring, just over a second off the (since-broken) High School/American Junior (U20) record she set as a Tennessee prep 3 years ago.

7. Stanford

The Cardinal were only 13th last year, a disappointing showing based on earlier results (including a win at the West Regional). All 7 runners are back, including Zofia Dudek (20th) and Lucy Jenks (83rd). They’ve added Aussie Amy Bunnage, who sports track PRs of 8:51.90 and 15:21.76, as well as NXN champ Irene Riggs, who finished 12th at the World U20 Champs in February. Another top frosh, Sophia Kennedy has run 9:57.09 for 2M and we know she’s got good genes: Her father, Olympian Bob Kennedy, won two NCAA cross titles for Indiana.

8. Colorado

The Buffs seem poised to improve on last year’s 11th-place finish, the program’s worst showing since ’12. Bailey Hertenstein returns after placing 5th overall, while Emily Covert (just 105th last year) is bouncing back from injuries and illness in the hopes of regaining the form she showed when taking 4th in the ’22 NCAA 10,000. The transfer portal brought in Natalie Cook, who finished 7th for Oklahoma State, as well as Marlee Starliper, who left NC State following an injury-plagued time in Raleigh (but did manage a 15:36.51 PR in the 5000 in ’22). They’re joined by prize recruit Karrie Baloga, who set a since-broken HSR in the 2000 steeplechase last spring.

9. Virginia

Don’t sleep on the Cavaliers, who were 9th last year and will be racing on their home course at Nationals. Margot Appleton was 55th a year ago, and since then took 3rd in the outdoor 1500 and has solidified her spot as UVa’s top harrier. Also back are Sophie Atkinson (46th) and Anna Workman (65th), while Caroline Timm, who has a speedy 800 PR of 2:04.69 to her name, transferred in from Kennesaw State, where she spent a year after starting her collegiate career at Princeton.

10. Georgetown

The Hoyas lack a superstar up front, and while low sticks are key to success, their depth could make them a threat in a crowded field in Charlottesville. Maggie Donahue was 21st last time around to lead the squad to a 10th-place finish (She was also 30th in ’21). Also returning is Chloe Scrimgeour (59th), who swept the Big East indoor and outdoor 5000 titles last season (and was 8th at NCAA Outdoors). Among the newcomers is Kelsey Swenson, a transfer from Idaho with solid PRs in the 5000 (16:08.63) and 10,000 (33:21.11).

Others To Watch:

Alabama, Cal Baptist, Iowa State, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington. ◻︎