2022 NCAA XC Women’s Top 10: NC State Is Still the Team to Beat
By Jonathan Gault
September 22, 2022
It’s September, which means it’s time to start thinking about cross country again. On Wednesday, I previewed the top 10 men’s XC teams for the 2022 NCAA season, and now it’s the women’s turn.
There’s a lot to be sorted out in the eight weeks between now and the NCAA championships in Stillwater on November 19. Are the NC State women even better than last year’s title team? Can former high school phenom Katelyn Tuohy follow up her NCAA 5,000m title in June with a cross country crown, or will 2020 champ Mercy Chelangat win again? Can Oklahoma State finish on the podium for the first time ever on its home course?
After talking with some of the top coaches in the NCAA, here’s my best guess at where things stand right now — and how the top 10 could look in Stillwater in November.
1) North Carolina State
2021 finish: 1st *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #3, #4, #7) *Coach: Laurie Henes
After taking second in 2020, the NC State women broke through in 2021 with an 84-point performance at NCAAs to win the first XC title in school history. Two of the top four from that squad have moved on, but the 2022 Wolfpack could be even better than last year’s title team.
Katelyn Tuohy, entering her third year, will be counted on to lead the team and will be among the individual favorites this year after a track season that saw her finish 2nd in the 3k and 5k at NCAA indoors and win the 5k at the NCAA outdoor meet. Kelsey Chmiel, 9th and 6th at the last two NCAA XC meets, is also back after a foot injury sidelined her during the outdoor season. As a result, NC State coach Laurie Henes plans to be cautious with Chmiel this season.
“We want to limit the amount of time she spends in spikes,” Henes says. “…And so we may not run all of the races but I believe we’re going to be able to run the important races at the end of the season.”
The thing is, NC State is so good that they could lose Tuohy or Chmiel and still be #1 in the country. This is a team that qualified five women to NCAAs in the 5,000 last spring, with four of them returning this fall: Tuohy (15:14), Marlee Starliper (15:36), Samantha Bush (15:42), and Savannah Shaw (15:33). Add in Tennessee grad Sydney Seymour, who ran in the 5000 as well (15:34 pb), Gianna Quarzo (NCAA qualifier in the 10k), Nevada Mareno (NCAA qualifier in the 1500), and Mariah Howlett (68th at NCAA XC in ’19) and it will be a battle just to make the Wolfpack’s top seven.
Indeed, one of Henes’ biggest challenges will be making sure her top women don’t get overly excited at practice and run each other into the ground.
“Anytime you have a group this talented and this deep, my job seems like a lot of holding people back,” Henes says. “But they’re doing a good job of that this year. We have enough people with enough experience that they realize this is a long season and you don’t need to do anything heroic in training in September to be ready to go in November.”
2) New Mexico
2021 finish: 3rd *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #3, #4) *Coach: Joe Franklin
Since 2010, no NCAA women’s program has been more consistent than New Mexico. The Lobos enter the 2022 season riding a 12-year streak of top-10 finishes that includes titles in 2015 and 2017. Just as impressive, New Mexico has finished on the podium in six of the last eight seasons — and has a great shot to make it seven of nine in 2022.
Emma Heckel and Gracelyn Larkin, 18th and 21st a year ago, are both back to lead the way, as are Abbe Goldstein (47th) and Amelia Mazza-Downie (56th). That’s a strong nucleus to work with, and there are a number of women on the roster who didn’t run at NCAAs last year who could contribute this fall. Samree Dishon didn’t run NCAA XC due to illness last year but ran 15:54 and 33:09 on the track. Aussie Sarah Eckel has run 4:14 for 1500, while freshman Danielle Verster ran 4:13 this year and was 9th at the World U20 Championships. Semira Mebrahtu has NCAA XC experience, finishing 116th in 2020, while Elise Thorner ran 9:32 in the steeple last spring and finished 5th at NCAAs.
Once again, New Mexico is a deep squad capable of making a podium push. Taking down high-flying NC State is going to be a challenge, though. If the Lobos are going to spring the upset in Stillwater, they’ll need Heckel and/or Larkin to finish in the top 10 and hope the rest of the group isn’t far behind.
“I think being able to make sure our spread is super small, that’s the first thing,” Franklin says. “People don’t necessarily think we have these really big front runners, but we have women that have all run in the 20s before. So if we keep that spread close, then we could be very, very good.”
2021 finish: 4th *Returners from NCAAs: 3/7 (lose #1, #3, #5, #7) *Coach: Mark Wetmore
Colorado loses three top-80 finishers from last year in Abby Nichols, Rachel McArthur, and NCAA mile champ Micaela DeGenero. But the Buffaloes bring back All-American Emily Covert (31st) and sixth-year grad student India Johnson, who was an All-American in 2020 for Michigan State (35th; she was 58th last fall). Plus CU adds grad transfer Bailey Hertenstein, a two-time All-American in XC for Indiana (31st in ’19, 28th in ’20).
With those three leading the way, CU should contend for the podium again, particularly if Hannah Miniutti (85th as a true freshman) and former Cornell star Gabrielle Orie (NCAA qualifier in the steeple, 90th in xc in 2019) can improve on last season.
4) Oklahoma State
2021 finish: 13th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #4, #5) *Coach: Dave Smith
The Cowgirls have never finished on the podium at NCAA XC, but that could change in 2022. With NCAAs on their home course and a deep squad led by two talented frontrunners, coach Dave Smith is incredibly excited about not just this season, but the years to come for his program.
“We haven’t gotten done what I want to get done on the women’s side,” Smith says. “We haven’t risen to the level of consistency that the men have enjoyed for the last 16-17 years. And that’s on me. I don’t know why we haven’t figured it out. We’ve been good at times and even shown flashes of greatness here and there, but we want to be winning trophies every year. And finally we’re in a situation where we’ve got the bodies, the experience, the leadership, the depth, the young enthusiasm that we’re going to be good for a while.”
Taylor Roe leads the way for OK State and should score in the low single-digits after finishing 2nd in 2020 and winning the NCAA 3k title in 2022. She’ll be joined by the #1 recruit in the country, Natalie Cook, who won the RunningLane and Eastbay XC champs last year before running 9:44.44 for 2 miles (#2 all-time among US high schoolers) and setting a national high school record of 15:25.93 for 5,000 meters.
In some ways, Roe’s progression is a model for Cook. Until this season, Roe had only been running five days a week to guard against injuries (she’s now up to six days a week). Cook, famously, only ran four days a week as a high schooler, running as few as 10 miles per week during the cross country season.
Smith read the stories about Cook’s low mileage but thought it had to be an exaggeration. Surely no high schooler could run 15:25 running four times a week?
“I didn’t believe a word of it,” Smith says. “Turns out it’s all true…Natalie Cook is something I don’t understand. I don’t get it, it’s not logical. It makes zero sense.”
Smith is continuing the cautious approach that Cook’s father Andrew took as her high school coach to keep her healthy. She still only runs four days a week and maxes out at about 25 miles per week. To keep her mileage that low, she doesn’t do long runs.
“The women [were] doing a 10k tempo runs on Saturday,” Smith says. “Well 10k is more than she’s done [the last] two years in one day.”
Right now, Smith says, Cook looks “really, really good,” but he is not putting any expectations on her. He hopes the cautious approach will pay dividends down the road.
“She’s a freshman and we’re talking about November and this is September,” Smith says. “So who knows what she’s going to look like in November…We are not a microwave program. We’re a crock pot. That means you’re gonna slow down some of your progress your first couple years in order to hopefully have much better final results late in your college career and beyond.”
Behind the top two, Gabby Hentemann (15:45, 6th NCAA 10k) is a strong #3 with Smith hoping a couple of new additions — Kenyan Billah Jepkirui (4:17 1500) and Norwegian Anne Gine Lovnes (2:05/4:21) — can contribute. OK State will have trouble matching the back-end depth of NC State and New Mexico but this could still very well be the Cowgirls’ best team ever.
5) Notre Dame
2021 finish: 5th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #3, #6) *Coach: Matt Sparks
The Irish finished 5th a year ago, its best finish since 2004, and the two women who led that squad, Maddy Denner (9th at NCAAs) and Olivia Markezich (11th) are back this fall. If the Irish are to improve on that finish, Denner and Markezich will have to be spectacular up front once again as there’s not a ton of depth on the team.
But there is enough to challenge for the top five again. Erin Strzelecki was 80th at NCAA XC and ran 16:07 for 5k indoors, making her a capable #3, while Katie Rose Blachowitz ran 16:19 and qualified for NCAAs outdoors in the 10,000. If ND can find a #5, this team should be very strong in 2022 — though there’s not much margin for error.
2021 finish: 6th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #1, #3) *Coach: J.J. Clark
Losing veterans Julia Heymach and Christina Aragon from last year’s 6th-place squad hurts, but the other five women Stanford ran at NCAAs last year were freshmen eligibility-wise, meaning there is plenty of room for progress. Lucy Jenks (49th, 15:41 on the track) was the most promising of them, but 2019 Foot Locker champ Zofia Dudek (63rd), Audrey Suarez (103rd, 16:13 5k), Grace Connolly (16:11/34:09), and Audrey DaDamio (16:12 as a high schooler in 2021) all have vast potential. Dudek and DaDamio didn’t race on the track last year, so staying healthy will be key.
Stanford also adds a killer recruiting class. World U20 800 champ Roisin Willis and high school 800 record holder Juliette Whittaker are the headliners, though both are 800 specialists (Whittaker did finish 28th at Eastbay nationals last year, though). And the Cardinal also bring in two top-10 finishers at Eastbay in Riley Stewart (10:06 2-mile) and Caroline Wells (10:10 3200). This year’s team could still be a year away from title contention, but the future is very bright in Palo Alto.
2021 finish: 15th *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #3, #5, #6) *Coach: Will Palmer
Alabama finished 8th at the 2020 NCAA championships but slid back to 15th last fall. That’s what happens when you lose the NCAA 3rd-placer (Amaris Tyynismaa) to a high ankle sprain. Tyynismaa returned last spring and made it to NCAAs on the track (she finished 17th in the 5k), and while it remains to be seen whether she can return to the heights of two years ago, she should be a major contributor this fall.
“We’re really excited about how she ran toward the end of track season,” coach Will Palmer says. “Just making nationals was a big deal for her on the track. She ran 15:42 and we felt like she was trending back in the right direction, so she’s in a good spot now.”
The Crimson Tide also return one of the most consistent runners in the NCAA in 2020 cross country champ Mercy Chelangat, who added the 10k title to her list of accolades in June. She should again be among the contenders for the individual crown in Stillwater, the site of her 2020 triumph. Add in Flomena Asekol (29th in ’21) and Bama has three potential All-Americans this fall.
To return to the top 10, however, Alabama will have to shore up its back end — its fourth and fifth scorers last year finished 193rd and 235th. Some new additions could help in that respect. Hilda Olemomoi stepped in as the team’s top finisher at the North Alabama Showcase on September 16, running 16:31 to finish 2nd overall. Transfer Elka Machan was 4th at the MAC champs for Ball State last year. And freshman Sam McDonnell finished 6th at the RunningLane champs last fall and ran a 4:38 mile at Newbury Park High School.
If a couple of those women can finish in the 100-150 range and the lead trio do their jobs, this should be a top 10 team again.
2021 finish: 2nd *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #1, #2, #5) *Coach: Diljeet Taylor
This is, BYU coach Diljeet Taylor admits, a different team from BYU squad that finished 2nd, 1st, and 2nd at the last three NCAA championships. Gone are NCAA champions Whittni Orton and Anna Camp, the backbone of their last two NCAA squads. But Taylor is excited to start a new journey with a young group of women and see where it takes her.
“This year we don’t have an entire idea of who’s gonna be there, so there’s a little mystery,” Taylor says. “Which is fun and exciting…In the past, there’s been a lot of pressure that starts in September. And now we can just put our heads down, work hard and see what ends up happening.”
BYU should still be good. All-American Aubrey Frentheway (39th last year) returns, as does McKenna Lee (41st & 46th at the last two NCAA championships). Lexy Halladay was running well for BYU last fall before an off day at NCAAs but qualified for NCAAs in the steeplechase on the track. Anna Martin ran 34:13 for 10k and Taylor has been impressed by what she’s seen from Carmen Alder, who ran 4:16 on the track in 2022 as a true freshman.
The Cougars should also be boosted by the addition of Jenna Hutchins, who set the high school 5,000m record of 15:37 in 2020 (since lowered by Natalie Cook). Hutchins enrolled early at BYU in January but didn’t race last spring as she adjusted to the college lifestyle. But she is healthy and Taylor says she will be a key part of the group moving forward.
“She’s in my top five, she works out with our top women,” Taylor says. “…It looks a lot different for every single person and there’s definitely an adjustment process for her that’s going to end up paying great dividends because we’re going to be patient with that adjustment. The great thing about Jenna is she’s gonna give 100% of what she has. We know that, she’s proven that in practice. I’ve never coached a more grateful woman.”
2021 finish: 8th *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #1, #3, #7) *Coach: Lance Harter
Arkansas loses a couple of heavy hitters from last year in Lauren Gregory (19th) and Krissy Gear (43rd), but is better-positioned than most schools to replace them thanks to a pair of top recent recruits. Taylor Ewert, the 2019 NXN runner-up behind Katelyn Tuohy, broke her foot at the Dellinger Invite last fall and missed the rest of the 2021-22 campaign, but is back healthy now. And Sydney Thorvaldson, the 2020 Gatorade national cross country runner of the year, should also be back in action, though she’s been through some hiccups so far — she didn’t race last fall as she healed from a navicular stress fracture suffered in high school and has been more recently battling mono.
“They’re both gonna be major contributors for us,” says coach Lance Harter. “Taylor has kind of been a redshirt redshirt freshman so we really haven’t seen her complete a whole season. She’s obviously gifted…she just needs races.”
Heidi Nielson, a redshirt freshman who ran 16:30 to make the US World U20 team in June, is another one who could take a leap, though she, like her roommate Thorvaldson, has been battling mono.
The Razorbacks should also receive help from Gracie Hyde (16:21 pb) and a couple of transfers, Katie McCune from DII Drury and Nya Hernandez from Kennesaw State, who went 1-5 for Arkansas at the Missouri Southern Stampede.
Harter believes Arkansas can be a top-15 team this year, and says the team is counting on its top returner from NCAAs, Isabel Van Camp (37th), to continue building on a track season that saw her run 15:35 and finish 8th at NCAAs in the 5k.
“A lot of it depends on our front-runner, Isabel Van Camp,” Harter says. “She just had a fabulous season as the year progressed. She’s very fit, very excited about the cross country season and so we’re looking forward to her having a lead role for us.”
10) North Carolina
2021 finish: 14th *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #7) *Coach: Dylan Sorensen
North Carolina finished 14th at the 2020 NCAA champs and returned that entire squad last fall while adding a strong recruiting class headlined by Texas star Brynn Brown, who ran a phenomenal 9:39 in a 3200m time trial at the end of her junior year in 2020. The hope in Chapel Hill was that UNC could break through to the top 10 at 2021 NCAAs in Tallahassee, but the team did not get off the line well, 2020 All-American Paige Hofstad lost a shoe, and the Tar Heels wound up 14th again.
The team and coach Dylan Sorensen emerged from that meet with mixed emotions, but if there is a silver lining, Sorensen says, it is this: the fact that UNC is no longer excited about finishing 14th at NCAAs — which tied the program’s best finish since 2010 — is a sign of the progress that the squad has made over the last three years.
“We still on paper are young, but we really feel that we don’t have the crutch of youth to lean on anymore to be [an excuse],” Sorensen says. “We want to go be the best that we can be and that’s been our mission and the chip on the shoulder that we have had since one year ago. We took some great steps forward all through the winter and the spring track seasons when all of the women on our team were competing against people are two to six years older than they are, with the COVID landscape.”
Brown led the way with a 16:05 pb last spring, with Ava Dobson (16:25), Taryn Parks (16:25), Natalie Tyner (16:31), and Sasha Neglia (16:32) also breaking 16:30 or coming close and Carlee Hansen running 4:14 for 1500. UNC also adds Fatima Alanis (16:04), the DII runner-up for Queens University last year who began her collegiate career as a triathlete and should now be among the Tar Heels’ top women.
UNC also has Sydney Masciarelli on its roster, who won Foot Lockers in 2018 as a sophomore. Masciarelli ran 10:02 for 2 miles as a high school senior in 2021 but raced sparingly last year. Sorensen says Masciarelli has been working to find consistency as she adapts to college running but is optimistic about her future.
“Something I have read many times on your site is that talent does not go away,” Sorensen says. “Sydney has been doing a phenomenal job. When people start college, it takes them different lengths of time to adapt really well to build their routine that they stick with that’s going to provide them with consistency in their life, which leads to consistency in training, which leads to consistency in racing. Throughout the year last year, that’s what we were all about: let’s learn how to be consistent in life and consistent in training, so we can set the foundation for the next 3-4 years, which obviously sets you up for long after that. By the end of last year, she was in a really good spot with consistency and we wanted to be patient with when we started competing, so we held off on that throughout the track season. She’s in a great position right now.”
Put it all together and there’s a lot of potential on this team with enough experience to crack the top 10 in 2022.
- It’s always tough to trim this list to 10 schools as inevitably a strong team is going to be left out — there often isn’t much separating 7-10 from 11-15. If I were to have a #11 this year, it would be Washington, who is led by the fearless Haley Herberg (15:31/32:34) and NCAA 1500 qualifier Anna Gibson (4:13 pb).
- Colorado State is flying under the radar. The Rams finished 17th last year, their best NCAA result since 2007, and return 6/7 from that team.
Talk about the 2022 NCAA women’s xc contenders on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard.
Men:2022 NCAA XC Men’s Top 10: NAU Chases Second Three-Peat; Can Stanford or OK State Finally Knock Them Off? NAU is loaded once again. But so is Stanford, and OSU should be dangerous on its home course. Who will win it all in ’22?
*MB: Jonathan Gault unveils his top 10 men’s NCAA xc teams. Agree or disagree?