With An Ace Veteran Absent NC State Dug Deep

Injured Kelsey Chmiel (left) was unable to race. Stalwart Katelyn Tuohy was too far under the weather to make the trophy ceremony. NC State defended its title anyway. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

AFTER SATURDAY’S DRAMATIC NCAA Cross team victory over favored Northern Arizona, NC State coach Laurie Henes found herself at a loss to single out one runner who stood out on her Wolfpack team. “Every one of them dug as deep as they could,” she said of the 123–124 win over the Lumberjacks which lengthened her team’s streak of titles to three.

The Wolfpack had experienced struggles with injuries all season and this was exacerbated with the news that 3-time All America senior Kelsey Chmiel had a broken foot and junior Katelyn Tuohy entered Saturday’s race after being sick for a day and a half beforehand — an adverse circumstance understandably only revealed after the race.

Henes met the adversity head on and told her team nothing would change, only that they would be less deep without Chmiel and that the team would need to manage their emotions.

“I told them we couldn’t change our strategy. We were going to do exactly the same thing as though she were in the race. We were going to have a little bit more depth if she was in the race. We talk about managing your emotions this time of year because the teams and individuals that manage the stress and their emotions are the ones that do the best. This group did it in an amazing way.”

With the Wolfpack’s “heart and soul of the team,” as Henes put it, sidelined, each of the NC State runners ran strongly from the gun and they sprung into the lead by the 3K mark overtaking early leaders BYU, Northern Arizona and Notre Dame.

The Wolfpack’s resilience was most evident in Alabama transfer Amaris Tyynismaa, who had decided to join the Wolfpack after a 1-hour call with Henes after she entered the transfer portal. Her contribution to the team heading into the race was in question after two DNFs at the ACC Champs and Regionals and she said she wasn’t even sure if she was going to run nationals. Henes said that in a prerace talk on Friday she could see Tyynismaa’s demeanor had changed.

“Sometimes when you talk to people the day before you can tell a big difference. And there was definitely a big difference yesterday,” Henes said. “Amaris, with the Kelsey situation, said, ‘Well, this is what I came here for, to try to win national team titles and it’s my turn to get it done,’ and that’s what she did.”

For Tyynismaa the problems she had at conference and the regional were set aside.

“I didn’t finish at ACCs and I didn’t finish at regionals,” she said. “At regionals, to be honest, I was struggling mentally. This team is incredible. I can’t even describe it in words how much they mean to me, but maybe today showed it because I pulled through. I was just running with heart today. I knew I had it in me, the staff knew I had it in me, and the girls and Henes. We were a little nervous, but I knew I was going to come through for my team.”

Though the team was running well, Henes posted herself at 5K to reassure them.

“I was screaming at them at 5K that they were still winning,” said the coach. “You could tell that people didn’t feel great so I wanted them to know that they had a chance to win it and I think they heard that.“

Tyynismaa used her coach’s prerace and in-race words to keep fighting throughout: “That’s what coach was saying before the race — no matter how you felt to keep on fighting and that’s what I was thinking about. I was foaming at the mouth at 3K and I got a little nervous but I said I was going to keep on going and do this for my team.

“At 5K, I heard Coach say, ‘Five people,’ and I said, ‘Five people, baby!’ That’s my woman!”

In all, the Wolfpack got great efforts from the whole squad. (Don’t miss the full account in our news story.)

Northern Arizona coach Mike Smith saw from just after the start that his Lumberjacks were in for a close race with the Wolfpack.

“I knew very early on that we were not in great positioning,” said Smith who resorted to doing a quick count on his own after electronic live results stalled on his phone. “We knew we were going to have a battle on our hands because we didn’t have people in the early positions where we would like them. If you go back and look at the 2K and 3K, not much changed from that point on.”

But Smith was proud of his team’s finish, the highest for Lumberjack women in school history.

“This meet is unlike any other meet,” Smith said. “You can get a false sense of where you are in your performances at other meets in the year. You have to figure out this game and what it takes. For the men’s team [champions the past 3 years and at 6 of the last 7 nationals before this one], we’ve gotten a lot of experience in what it takes on this level. This is a big day for us to be operating like this, but we need some experience operating on this level.”

Smith put best what he and others saw from the Wolfpack on Saturday morning:

“The thing about the team that beat us, they were dealt a massive blow of adversity with one of their top athletes out with an injury, and look how they responded,” he said. “That’s the team we would aspire to be if we could be.”