Happy NCAA Eve! Katelyn Tuohy Says Hamstring Is 100%, Solinsky Says Valby Can Handle Hills, & More

By Jonathan Gault
November 18, 2022

STILLWATER, Okla. — We’re less than 24 hours away from the 2022 NCAA Cross Country Championships, and the excitement was palpable at the Greiner Family Cross Country Course today as coaches and athletes from the 31 best men’s and women’s cross country teams in America made their final preparations for the meet known as the Big Dance.

It was cold on the course this morning, with temps in the low-30s and windy — very similar to what the athletes will face on Saturday (though it should be a little sunnier than today’s overcast skies). But that didn’t stop the stars from getting their last look at the course, running a few final strides, and, in a few cases, talking with LetsRun.com. Below, highlights from the day before the big day in Stillwater, with an update on Katelyn Tuohy‘s hamstring, Chris Solinsky‘s case for why the hills shouldn’t bother Parker Valby, a Natalie Cook training update (she’s up to 30 miles a week!), and Dave Smith explaining why he feels like he won the lottery.

Katelyn Tuohy: “It’s gonna be a dogfight, but I’m excited for it”

Tuohy vs. Valby is the most-hyped women’s individual showdown at this meet since Jenny Barringer vs. Susan Kuijken in 2009. Neither of those women wound up winning the race, of course, and Tuohy made sure not to discount anyone else in the field, including the woman sitting to her left during today’s press conference, Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat, who won the NCAA meet on this course 20 months ago. More than anything, she thinks it’s good for the sport when there are lots of top individuals battling it out — and good for her, because it gets her excited to compete.

“There is a lot of attention, especially on our names,” Tuohy said, referring to herself and Valby. “But if I’m being honest, I think there’s a lot of competitive women in the field tomorrow that shouldn’t be counted out. I think it’s gonna be a dogfight, but I’m excited for it. That’s what makes the sport thrilling, is when there’s a lot of competition on the individual side. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s hyping me up. It’s getting me excited.”

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Valby agreed.

“I’m with her,” Valby said. “I’m just taking it as another race. I’m excited for it. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Tuohy hasn’t really been tested over the final kilometer of any of her races this year, content to hang with the pack and kick hard for the win late. She expects something similar tomorrow — except she’ll have to dig deeper this time around.

“I feel like I haven’t redlined or anything yet this season,” Tuohy said. “…Once we hit 4 or 5k, the pace is going to pick up a lot on the hills. I think tomorrow might be the hardest I push myself this season, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Katelyn Tuohy says her hamstring is 100%

Tuohy was seen grabbing at her hamstring during last week’s Southeast Regional, though she still wound up winning the race. Tuohy said she didn’t seriously injure the muscle — it was just a tweak — and that she will be good to go at NCAAs.

“It’s feeling really good,” Tuohy said. “I was able to practice all week. I didn’t really injure it at regionals, I just kind of tweaked it a little bit. I think it’s 100%. I’m ready to go tomorrow.”

Chris Solinsky thinks Parker Valby will do fine on the hills tomorrow

Florida star Parker Valby has been sensational this fall but most of her success has come on flat, fast courses. How she responds to a hilly, demanding course at Oklahoma State remains to be seen. Her coach, however, is not concerned.

“Our golf course at home has a really good hilly section that we’ve been working really hard on, so I think she’s gonna be fine,” said Florida coach Chris Solinsky. “It just comes down to how she feels and how she executes. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”

Solinsky also confirmed that Valby has remained an extremely low-mileage runner during her spectacular season. She will run only three or four days a week, totaling 20-25 miles, but supplements that with a lot of cross-training — up to two hours on days she doesn’t run. Solinsky raved about her work ethic and said he views it as a positive that she is able to train consistently rather than dwell on her lack of mileage.

“Right now, it’s all about how many weeks can we string together rather than what is the total in general,” Solinsky said. “We do a lot with cross-training obviously. She works her butt off and I don’t know that I’ve met anyone that can push themselves in that regard like she can.”

Natalie Cook is up to 30+ miles a week and Taylor Roe rounding into form at the right time

Oklahoma State may have its best women’s team ever, and Taylor Roe (NCAA 3k champion) and Natalie Cook (US high school 5k record holder) are two big reasons why. I asked them whether they can win the program’s first women’s team title tomorrow, and the freshman Cook did not hesitate.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Cook said. “That’s the big goal coming in.”

Cook was clearly very excited to be running in her first NCAAs, particularly on her home course. And the team is still maintaining all of its NCAA traditions, such as team meals, even though they haven’t traveled anywhere for the meet this time.

Any nerves?

“I feel like we all get nervous sometimes,” Cook said. “It just means you care. I’m excited to just get after it. It’s my first NCAA meet, so I’m ready to go. It’s going to be fun.”

Cook won the RunningLane and Eastbay XC champs last fall despite running as little as 10 miles a week, but said that she has bumped that up since coming to college, running 32 recently. And so far, her body has been responding well, leaving her optimistic for Saturday.”

“I cut back the cross-training the past couple weeks,” Cook said. “It’s been pretty nice. I feel really fresh, so I’m really excited to see what I can go do.”

As for Roe, it shouldn’t be forgotten that she was 2nd at this meet the last time it was held on this course in March 2021 and was the last woman to beat Katelyn Tuohy at an NCAA championship, outkicking her to win the 3k indoors in March. Roe said it’s been a long season but she feels like things are coming around for her well ahead of the biggest meet of the year.

“I always forget how long [the season] is,” Roe said. “At the start of the year, you don’t want to be in the shape or the place you’re going to be in at the end of the year — [you want to] allow yourself time to progress. That being said, it’s been a couple months and I think we’re ready and excited.”

For the record, Charles Hicks does know the last time Stanford won NCAAs

When I spoke with Stanford men’s coach Ricardo Santos earlier this week, he mentioned that he wasn’t sure whether his athletes even knew the last time Stanford won the NCAA title. So I asked Hicks if he knew the answer.

“It was early 2000s, no?” Hicks said, seeming to wrack his brain. “Was it?…Am I close?…Shot in the dark: 2003?”

Ding ding ding!

Hicks then revealed his befuddlement was a ruse — he was well aware that Stanford’s last win came 19 years ago, a drought the Cardinal hopes to end tomorrow.

“There’s a lot of pressure obviously, historically,” Hicks said. “We’ve always tried to be a program that’s known as a machine, and you want a machine to be something that’s consistently operating at the highest level.”

Dave Smith compares hosting NCAAs to winning the lottery

OSU coach Dave Smith has had a big smile on his face all week as the NCAA XC world has descended upon his home course for the Big Dance. And this time, unlike in the pandemic meet held in March 2021, spectators will be allowed, creating the atmosphere that NCAA XC is famous for. Smith feels as if he has won the lottery.

“15 years ago…I sat around, like we all do, dreaming what it would be like to win the lottery,’ Smith said. “Where am I going to spend my money, who I’m giving it to, who I’m going to say, No, you don’t get any, just delighting in those moments. And here I am, actually getting to spend the money.”

The course has the best footing of any NCAA XC course I’ve seen since I began covering the sport in 2014, and Smith gave credit to course superintendent Tracy Schneweis, who maintains the grounds year-round, for keeping it in tip-top shape. The only way this week could get any better for Smith would be for one of his teams or athletes to win a national title at home — and with contenders in all four races (men’s and women’s team and individual), it just might happen.

“To have an administration that was willing to invest the resources we invested into that course to make it what I think is the greatest cross country course in the world,” Smith said, “For the NCAA to recognize that and give us not one, but two opportunities in this window after COVID gave us a second shot to host the national championships. And then to have two teams and a couple individuals on both teams that are in the conversation [to win], that’s the holy grail.”

Mike Smith is pleased with where NAU is at right now

Smith said that usually his Northern Arizona team, winners of five of the last six NCAA men’s titles, is able to get affirmation from its in-season results — from 2016-21, NAU lost just twice in the regular season. This year, that has not been the case, as the Lumberjacks were 3rd at the Cowboy Jamboree and Nuttycombe. But Smith likes where his team is at right now, and after winning the Mountain Regional, they have some momentum going into NCAAs as they search for a three-peat.

“The momentum right now I’d say is really good,” Smith said. “It’s been positive, trending in the right direction. Which is not a little thing. I’ve had years where I couldn’t wait, day by day, week by week, for this to be over. And right now, I’m feeling like, yeah, we could keep going. This is a really good feeling to have.”

I also asked Smith why he chose to lift the redshirt on star freshman Colin Sahlman after suggesting earlier this year that Sahlman may not race this fall. So far, Sahlman has finished 60th at Nuttycombe (NAU’s 5th man), 7th at the Big Sky champs (NAU’s #5), and 27th at the Mountain Regional (NAU’s #6).

“We thought in training that he was someone who could make an impact in what we’re doing,” Smith said. “So we made the decision to race him. I feel like it was a good one. He’s definitely made an impact on what we’re doing in lots of ways.”

Sean Carlson: “My first month, I just lived out of a suitcase in a hotel, just recruiting”

Carlson, who guided the Notre Dame men to a runner-up finish at NCAAs on this course in March 2021, was hired in June to take over a Tennessee distance program that had not sent a men’s team to NCAAs since 2005. Five months later, the Volunteers are back at NCAAs thanks to a couple of key transfers in NCAA 10k champ Dylan Jacobs (who followed Carlson from Notre Dame as a grad transfer) and Yaseen Abdallah, who anchored Texas to the NCAA DMR title in March.

One of the keys to Carlson’s success at Notre Dame was recruiting, and that was the first thing he did once he got to Knoxville.

“My first month, I just lived out of a suitcase in a hotel, just recruiting,” he said.

Those labors won’t come to fruition for another year or two, but for right now Carlson is pleased where his team is at.

“It’s been pretty seamless,” Carlson said. “It’s been actually really nice.”

Carlson also said that Jacobs’ sprained ankle — which he suffered when he fell during the NCAA 10k final — bothered him into the summer but that he is now at the same level or better, aerobically, compared to when he won NCAAs in June.

“He’s been getting better every week,” Carlson said. “We’re excited about where he’s at.”

Jonathan Gault, a high school All-American at 5,000m and the cross-country and track and field captain at Dartmouth, is one of the premier track and field writers of his generation.  He has won numerous journalism awards including the NCAA Jim McKay Scholarship. He resides in Boston, Massachusetts and is known for his daily analysis, in-depth profiles, historical pieces, and love of the Brighton & Hove Albion football club. You can follow him @jongault13 or email him.

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