2021 NCAA Outdoor Women’s 5K/10K/Steeple Preview: NCAA Champs Mercy Chelangat & Courtney Wayment Try to Add to Their Title Hauls

By Jonathan Gault
June 8, 2021

Doubling is suddenly in vogue in the NCAA. While Cole Hocker earned props from us for even contemplating the 1500/5k double at NCAAs, that double is downright ordinary on the women’s side, with three women trying it, led by BYU’s Whittni Orton, who could join Villanova’s Sheila Reid as the only women this century to win both events.

Meanwhile, in the 10,000 and steeple, the two most dominant runners of the winter — NCAA XC champ Mercy Chelangat of Alabama and NCAA DMR/3k champ Courtney Wayment of BYU — will attempt to extend their reigns to late spring. Previews of all the long distance events at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships below.

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Women’s 10,000: Mercy Chelangat looks to add to XC title

(final Thursday, 9:08 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Mercy Chelangat SO Alabama 32:13.13 32:13.13 SEC 5k/10k champ; NCAA XC champ
Grace Forbes FR Rice 32:24.38 32:24.38 6th in NCAA indoor 5k
Carmela Cardama Baez SR Oregon 32:26.43 32:38.43 Pac-12 champ was NCAA runner-up in ’19
Amanda Vestri JR Syracuse 32:39.93 32:43.15 Former Iowa State runner was 4th at ACCs.
Clare O’Brien SR Boise State 32:39.30 32:43.70 Qualified in 5 and 10 after finishing 6th in 5k and 3rd in 10k at Mountain West champs
Lexie Thompson SR Weber State 32:49.62 32:49.62 Big Sky champ in 5 and 10
Abby Nichols SR Colorado 32:49.87 32:49.87 Former Ohio State runner was Pac 12 runnerup in 5 and 10
Haley Herberg SR Washington 32:51.96 32:51.96 Pac 12 xc champ was 3rd in Pac 12 10k but doubled up and made it in both 5 and 10 for NCAAs.
Poppy Tank SR Utah 32:52.65 32:52.65 27th in xc, 5th in Pac 12 5000.
Cailie Logue JR Iowa State 32:19.37 33:09.99 Big 12 5k/10k champ
Katie Izzo JR Arkansas 32:28.89 33:17.52 SEC runner-up was 4th in NCAA indoor 3k, 9th NCAA indoor 5k
Abbey Wheeler SR Providence 33:18.34 33:18.34 5th in NCAA indoor 5k
Ashley Tutt SO N. Illinois 33:24.96 33:24.96 13th in NCAA indoor 5k
Annie Heffernan SR Syracuse 33:25.55 33:25.55 Former Notre Dame runner was 6th in ACCs.
Katie Rose Blachowicz SO Notre Dame 33:32.77 33:32.77 Surprise qualifier has never scored at ACC level in track.
India Johnson SR Michigan St. 33:36.00 33:36.00 Big 10 runnerup was 35th in xc.
Lynsie Gram SR Michigan St. 33:37.92 33:37.92 4th in Big 10s, 34th in xc.
Clio Ozanne-Jaques JR Ole Miss 33:39.80 33:39.80 3rd at SECs
Jessie Larson SO Michigan 33:39.92 33:39.92 5th at Big 10s
Kelsey Chmiel FR NC State 33:40.20 33:40.20 11th in NCAA indoor 5k; 9th at NCAA XC
Maria Mettler SR Air Force 32:09.37 33:43.43 5th at Mountain West, NCAA All-American in xc in 2019.
Chandler Horton SO Charlotte 33:50.41 33:50.41 CUSA runnerup in 10k this year (3rd in 5000)
Jessa Hanson JR N. Arizona 32:47.00 33:56.97 5th at Big Sky, 79th in xc.
Stephanie Sherman SR Toledo 34:08.86 34:08.86 1st NCAAs for MAC runnerup in 5 and 10

Chelangat with her NCAA XC trophy (Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The woman to beat is Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat, who announced herself by winning the NCAA XC title in March and has been on a roll ever since. Chelangat swept the 5k and 10k titles at SECs — she won the latter race by 64 seconds in an NCAA-leading 32:13 — and ran the fastest times at either regional in both the 5k and 10k. It’s quite the turnaround for a woman who had never competed at an NCAA championship before this year, but the Kenyan Chelangat is very clearly one of the big dogs in the NCAA now.

She’s also the only woman in this field with an NCAA title. Everything is in her favor.

But this event has had its share of upsets, from Molly Seidel in 2015 (trust me, it was a shocker at the time) to Sharon Lokedi taking down Karissa Schweizer in 2018. The woman most primed to play spoiler to Chelangat is Oregon’s Carmela Cardama Baez, who almost pulled an upset of her own in 2019 before Weini Kelati rallied to beat her on the final lap. Baez wound up the runner-up in that race, making her the top returner in this year’s field, won Pac-12s by a comfortable 11 seconds, and her 32:26 pb makes her competitive with Chelangat. But Baez also got handled by Boise State’s Clare O’Brien and Weber State’s Lexie Thompson back in early April, finishing 14 seconds behind O’Brien and eight back of Thompson. Those women shouldn’t be overlooked.

Aside from Chelangat, Rice freshman Grace Forbes, who was sixth in the 5k at NCAA indoors, is the only other woman under 32:30 this year. A few others have run faster in previous years, however, including Big 12 champ Cailie Logue of Iowa State (32:19) and Maria Mettler of Air Force (32:09), both of whom did so at the Sound Running Track Meet in December (though Mettler was only 5th at the Mountain West champs last month).

JG prediction: Chelangat hasn’t provided a reason to pick against her since winning NCAA XC, so I’m taking her FTW.

Women’s 5,000: Will anyone strike double gold?

(final Saturday, 7:55 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Whittni Orton SR BYU 15:12.91 15:12.91 Will be doubling back from 1500
Mercy Chelangat SO Alabama 15:17.79 15:17.79 SEC 5k/10k champ; NCAA XC champ
Elly Henes SR NC State 15:18.75 15:18.75 ACC champ was 3rd at NCAA Indoors
Ella Donaghu JR Stanford 15:29.42 15:29.42 Will be doubling back from 1500
Katie Wasserman SR Notre Dame 15:33.35 15:33.35 Track and Field News picks the former Columbia runner for 2nd. A crazy bold pick as she’s never made NCAAs before and was only 4th in the ACC 15 but she does have good 1500 speed at 4:10.67.
Haley Herberg SR Washington 15:36.32 15:36.32 Pac 12 xc champ was 3rd in Pac 12 10k but doubled up and made it in both 5 and 10 for NCAAs.
Lauren Gregory SO Arkansas 15:36.51i 15:36.51i 4th at NCAA Indoors
Nicole Fegans JR Georgia Tech 15:37.16 15:37.16 ACC 10k champ
Amelia Mazza-Downie FR New Mexico 15:37.46 15:37.46 3rd at Mountain West, 58th in xc.
Clare O’Brien SR Boise State 15:37.87 15:37.87 Qualified in 5 and 10 after finishing 6th in 5k and 3rd in 10k at Mountain West champs
Jenna Magness JR Michigan St. 15:38.82 15:38.82 Big 10 champ was 7th at NCAA Indoors
Savannah Shaw FR NC State 15:40.37 15:40.37 4th at ACCs, 98th in xc.
Julia Heymach JR Stanford 15:40.74 15:40.74 Pac-12 champ will be doubling back from 1500
Jessica Drop SR Georgia 15:38.57 15:41.63 6th in NCAA indoor 3k
Bethany Hasz SR Minnesota 15:25.33i 15:41.98 NCAA indoor runner-up
Aoibhe Richardson SR San Francisco 15:43.58 15:43.58 11th at West Regional, was 19th in xc in 2019.
Abby Nichols SR Colorado 15:44.47 15:44.47 Pac-12 runner-up
Poppy Tank SR Utah 15:45.07 15:45.07 27th in xc, 5th in Pac 12 5000.
Joyce Kimeli JR Auburn 15:37.82i 15:46.88i NCAA indoor champ will be doubling back from steeple
Emily Mackay JR Binghamton 15:48.15 15:48.15 American East 1500 champ was 14th in xc
Esther Gitahi SR Alabama 15:51.85 15:54.09 Only 7th in SEC 1500 (10th in 5000). 36th in xc. But was 3rd in 2019 NCAA 5000.
Ericka VanderLende FR Michigan 15:54.27 15:54.27 15th indoors. 3rd in Big 10, 65th in xc.
Gabby Hentemann FR Oklahoma St. 16:00.49 16:00.49 Big 12 runnerup was 250th in xc.
Maddy Denner SO Notre Dame 16:07.56 16:07.56 Snagged final spot out of East after finishing just 32nd at ACCs

It’s not uncommon for an athlete to double up in the 5k and 10k at NCAAs. And in the last few years, we’ve seen athletes like Allie Ostrander and Hannah Steelman give the 5k/steeple a whirl. But in 2021, it feels as if everyone is doubling. Maybe they’re trying to make up for the fact that the 2020 meet was cancelled?

Whatever the reason, there’s a decent chance we see a double champion in 2021. It would be a rare feat: since the NCAA scrapped the 3k in 2001, only three women have won two distance titles at the same NCAA meet.

NCAA outdoor double champions, 2001 – present

Year Athlete Event #1 Event #2
2016 Dominique Scott, Arkansas 5k 10k
2011 Sheila Reid, Villanova 1500 5k
2010 Lisa Koll, Iowa State 5k 10k

This year, however, three of the top four seeds in the 5k will be doubling back from other events: BYU’s Whittni Orton and Stanford’s Ella Donaghu are running the 1500, and Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat is running the 10k. Add in Pac-12 champ Julia Heymach of Stanford (1500) and NCAA indoor 5k champ Joyce Kimeli of Auburn (steeple) and a bunch of top women will be running on tired legs.

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If either Orton, the NCAA leader at 15:12, or Chelangat (#2 at 15:17) were fresh, they would be the favorite, and considering Chelangat will have had 46 hours of rest compared to 100 minutes (Orton), she probably deserves the slight edge, especially if she can win the 10k on Thursday. Then again, if Orton looks great in winning the 1500, you could easily make the case for her as well.

If either falters in their first event, there will be a number of athletes ready to pounce. NC State’s Elly Henes pulled off an impressive same-day double of her own at ACCs — 4:10 for third in the 1500, then a 15:34 win in the 5k — but will only be running the 5k at NCAAs. As one of just three women in the field under 15:20 this year — and the only one running fresh — Henes, who was third in the 5k indoors, is a serious threat. A win would create some neat history and cool storyline: her mom, NC State coach Laurie Henes, won the same event at NCAAs 30 years ago, also in Eugene.

If you’re looking for another good story, how about Notre Dame’s Katie Wasserman, who also ran 4:10 to finish just behind Henes in the ACC 1500? A grad transfer, Wasserman never ran a 5k during four years at Columbia. But in her very first race for the Irish, she ripped a 15:33 at the Raleigh Relays, missing Molly Huddle‘s school record by less than a second.

I need to at least mention NCAA indoor champ Joyce Kimeli, but considering the tight turnaround from the steeple and the fact that she was just 3rd in the SEC 5k, I’m discounting her.

JG prediction: If everyone was running fresh, I’d pick Orton. The 1500 earlier in the day scares me, but nobody peaked their athletes better during the winter season than BYU coach Diljeet Taylor, and I’m going to trust she knows what she’s doing with Orton here. Whittni Orton FTW.

Women’s steeplechase: BYU star Courtney Wayment leads a surprisingly strong field

(prelims Thursday, 7:02 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 6:24 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Courtney Wayment JR BYU 9:31.37 9:31.37 NCAA 3k/DMR champ indoors
Aneta Konieczek JR Oregon 9:36.74 9:36.74 Pac-12 champ
Joyce Kimeli JR Auburn 9:37.97 9:37.97 NCAA indoor 5k champ was SEC runner-up
Katie Rainsberger SR Washington 9:38.84 9:38.84 Daughter of Boston Marathon champ was 2nd at Pac 12s
Charlotte Prouse SR New Mexico 9:39.78 9:39.78 NCAA runner-up in ’18 + ’19
Gabrielle Jennings SR Furman 9:40.53 9:40.53 Fastest time of anyone at regionals; 9th at ’19 NCAAs
Hannah Steelman JR NC State 9:43.08 9:43.08 ACC champ was 3rd at NCAAs in ’19; 5th at NCAA XC
Mahala Norris SR Air Force 9:44.10 9:44.10 4th in NCAA indoor 5k, 4th at NCAA XC
Olivia Markezich FR Notre Dame 9:45.72 9:45.72 ACC runner-up
Abby Kohut-Jackson SR Minnesota 9:46.96 9:46.96 Big 10 champ
Summer Allen SR Weber State 9:47.51 9:47.51 Big Sky champ was 7th in xc
Madison Boreman SR Colorado 9:46.48 9:48.09 NCAA runner-up in ’17
Alissa Niggemann SR Wisconsin 9:48.91 9:48.91 Big 10 runner-up
Grace Fetherstonhaugh SO Oregon State 9:50.40 9:50.40 5th at Pac 12s, 220th in xc
Grace Mancini SR La Salle 9:50.73 9:50.73 A10 runner-up in steeple and 5
Judi Jones SR Nebraska 9:51.80 9:51.80 1st NCAAs for Big 10 3rd placer
Ceili McCabe FR West Virginia 9:51.81 9:51.81 Big 12 champ
Annabelle Eastman SO George Mason 9:53.07 9:53.07 1st NCAAs for A10 champ
Alice Hill JR Michigan 9:54.19 9:54.19 Big 10 4th placer was 189th in xc
Leah Hanle SR Alabama 9:55.26 9:55.26 1st D1 NCAAs for former D2 star
Sara Musselman JR BYU 9:55.98 9:55.98 33rd in xc
Emma Gee SR Temple 9:58.12 9:58.12 1st NCAAs for former BYU runner
Lauren Sapone SR Notre Dame 9:58.64 9:58.64 Former Dartmouth runner was 4th at ACCs
Angelina Ellis JR Butler 10:04.22 10:04.22 Big East 3rd placer

Wayment anchored BYU to NCAA DMR glory in March (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The traditional knock on the steeple is that it’s a refuge for athletes not quite good enough to cut it in the flat events. But that hasn’t always been true (see: steeplers Emma Coburn and Leah Falland winning NCAA mile titles and Jenny Simpson running the NCAA 1500 record) and it’s certainly not the case at the top of this year’s field, which features the NCAA DMR/3k champ, BYU’s Courtney Wayment, taking on NCAA indoor 5k champ Joyce Kimeli of Auburn. Air Force’s Mahala Norris, 4th in the 5k indoors and at NCAA XC, is also entered.

This is the best NCAA steeple field we’ve seen in some time, perhaps ever. New Mexico’s Charlotte Prouse, the runner-up in this event in 2018 and 2019, ran a personal best of 9:39 in May and is only seeded fifth. NC State’s Hannah Steelman, third two years ago, also ran a pb this year (9:43) and is seeded just seventh.

As good as Kimeli and Oregon’s Polish star Aneta Konieczek are (both rank among the NCAA’s top 10 all-time), this race is Wayment’s to lose. Let’s not forget: she was the best runner in the country just three months ago. She has terrific pbs at other distances (4:30 mile, 15:17 5k) and the fastest time in the NCAA this year by 5+ seconds. Perhaps the bigger question should be whether Wayment can become just the fifth collegian to break 9:30 and challenge Courtney Frerichs‘ collegiate record of 9:24.41.

JG prediction: If you read the section above, you know I’m picking Wayment FTW.

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