2023 NCAA XC Women’s Top 10: Katelyn Tuohy Tries to Lead NC State to 3-Peat
NC State aiming to become the first team to three-peat since Stanford from 2005-07By Jonathan Gault
On Friday, we unveiled LetsRun’s preseason/midseason/time-to-start-paying-attention-to-cross-country-again men’s top 10 for the 2023 NCAA cross country season. Now it’s time to do the same for the women.
North Carolina State has won the two national titles and could be even better in 2023. Their top three from last year — Katelyn Tuohy (1st at NCAAs), Kelsey Chmiel (3rd), and Samantha Bush (15th) — are all returning, and they’re joined by Alabama transfer Amaris Tyynismaa, who finished 3rd at NCAA XC in 2020 and 9th last year.
“Theoretically if all four of the top returners are completely ready to go at the championship season, then we’re actually a little better through four than we’ve been in the past,” admitted NC State coach Laurie Henes.
Last year’s 2nd and 3rd placers, New Mexico and Alabama, both took major hits with transfers when coaches Joe Franklin and Will Palmer left to coach at Louisville and Florida, respectively. That leaves Northern Arizona — who pulled in two of those New Mexico transfers, Gracelyn Larkin and Aliandrea Upshaw — as the top challenger to an NC State three-peat.
Individually, Tuohy will be favored to win her second straight title and become the first woman to repeat since Villanova’s Sheila Reid in 2010-11. Once again, however, she will battle Parker Valby, the 2023 NCAA 5,000 champ who pushed Tuohy for 6,000 meters last fall in Stillwater.
As with our men’s rankings, this top 10 is subject to change — between injuries, redshirting, and coaches holding out key runners, it can be hard to get a full sense of a team until late in the season. Instead of a definitive top 10, consider this a starting point for discussion of the season to come. Let’s get into it.
1) North Carolina State
2022 finish: 1st *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #4, #5, #6) *Coach: Laurie Henes
While the NAU men have managed two separate three-peats in the last seven years, only two women’s programs have won three straight NCAA XC titles: Stanford from 2005-07, and Villanova, who won five straight from 1989-94. NC State is well-positioned to join them this fall.
Between Katelyn Tuohy, Kelsey Chmiel, and Amaris Tyynismaa, NC State boasts three women with multiple top-10 finishes. Add in Samantha Bush (32nd in 2021, 15th in 2022) and the Wolfpack have the best front four in America. Tuohy, who had a long 2023 track season, and Tyynismaa, who dealt with injury over the summer, will not open up until later in the season. But if they’re firing on all cylinders by November, NC State will be tough to beat.
NC State’s #5 from last year, Brooke Rauber (90th overall) likely will not race in 2023 due to injury, but Henes has plenty of options to fill her spot. Gionna Quarzo (15:51 5k) was 122nd last year, Grace Hartman ran 15:49 last spring as a true freshman, and newcomer Leah Stephens, who ran 9:54 for 2 miles last spring, made an spectacular collegiate debut by finishing 4th at the Joe Piane Invite at Notre Dame, just nine seconds behind Chmiel. Hartman and Stephens have made an impression on Henes as well.
“I’m thrilled with our redshirt freshmen and our freshmen so far,” Henes says. “…These two classes are fantastic.”
As always, the challenge will be making sure NC State’s women reach the start line at NCAAs healthy and ready to run. If that is the case, it’s hard to see anyone dethroning the Wolfpack.
2) Northern Arizona
2022 finish: 6th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #4, #6) *Coach: Mike Smith
While the NAU men have experienced nothing but success since Mike Smith took over in 2017, taking the NAU women to the NCAA podium has proven a tougher nut to crack. The Lumberjacks missed NCAAs in Smith’s first two years, then went 14th-11th-23rd making a big jump to 6th in 2022 — the program’s best women’s result in 31 years.
Sixth represented a significant breakthrough, but the 2023 squad should be even better and could even challenge for the program’s first women’s national title. NAU returns one of the top athletes in the country in Elise Stearns (4th at 2022 NCAA XC) and has received some major reinforcements in the transfer department in the form of Gracelyn Larkin (26th last year for New Mexico), Ruby Smee (58th last year for San Francsisco), and Aliandrea Upshaw (146th last year for New Mexico, 15:54 5k on the track). Add in Aussie freshman Keira Moore (14th at the Virginia Invitational) and returner Annika Reiss (47th at NCAA XC) and the Lumberjacks have a potential podium team.
NC State is clearly the #1 team on the country on paper, and it will be difficult for any school to run with them at NCAAs. But NAU can run with anyone else in the country.
3) Oklahoma State
2022 finish: 4th *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #1) *Coach: Dave Smith
Last year’s 4th-place finish at NCAAs on their home course was the Cowgirls’ best result in program history, and coach Dave Smith believes they can improve on that despite losing top runner Natalie Cook, who transferred to Colorado after finishing 7th as a true freshman. The rest of the top seven returns, led by Taylor Roe (2nd, 5th, 13th at last 3 NCAA XC meets) and Billah Jepkirui, who had an off day at NCAAs but was 3rd at Big 12s and finished 5th at NCAAs in the 1500 in June. Gabby Hentemann (57th, 15:45 5k) is a proven veteran and Gabija Galvydyte continued her transformation from 400 hurdler to distance runner by running 4:09 for 1500 over the summer.
On top of that, OSU gets back Molly Born (16th at NCAA XC in ’19, 13th in the NCAA 10k in ’23), who missed the last cross country season due to injury, and adds talented freshman Victoria Lagat from Kenya, who finished 3rd at the Cowboy Jamboree on September 23.
The way Smith sees it, he has a team that is capable of scoring under 100 points on a great day at nationals. That may not be enough to beat NC State, but if OK State runs its best race and NC State does not, he sees a path to victory.
“They’ve got probably a higher ceiling and a higher floor than we do,” Smith says. “But somewhere in there, our range overlaps with them a little bit, and we have a chance to beat them.”
2022 finish: Did not qualify *Returners from NCAAs: N/A *Coach: Will Palmer
Like NAU, Florida has taken advantage of the exodus from New Mexico to build its own team into a contender in 2023 with Amelia Mazza-Downie (22nd NCAA XC) and Elise Thorner (40th) heading to Gainesville over the summer. In addition, Flomena Asekol (14th) and Allison Wilson (16:05 5k) followed new coach Will Palmer from Alabama. Add that group to returning NCAA 5,000 champ Parker Valby and it’s very possible the Gators could go from not qualifying for NCAAs a year ago to finishing on the podium in 2023.
A lot of that will depend on whether Wilson (who has never run at NCAA XC) or someone else can step up and deliver at the #5 spot. But Palmer likes his depth and how his team has come together quickly.
“We have seven newcomers and sometimes when you introduce seven new personalities onto a team of 21, so a third of your team, there can be growing pains,” Palmer says. “But four of them are older, mature veteran athletes that have been through this and they know what they want. So it’s been really, really seamless.”
5) Notre Dame
2022 finish: 7th *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #3, #5, #7) *Coach: Matt Sparks
Notre Dame has finished 5th and 7th in the last two years and should be very good again in 2023. NCAA steeple champion Olivia Markezich, who was 8th at NCAA XC last year, is back to lead the way and will be joined by twin sister Andrea Markezich, a grad transfer from Washington who has run 15:54/32:50. The rest of the Irish’s top group — Erin Strzelecki (57th NCAA XC, NCAA qualifier int the 10k), Siona Chisholm (81st NCAA XC, NCAA qualifier in the 5k) and Michigan transfer Ericka VanderLende (76th NCAA XC) — are all battle-tested veterans.
“The thing that we’re most excited about is the experience level of our top five,” Sparks says. “…The concern is we’re only 6 or 7 deep. I look at NC State and some other teams, they’ve got 9 or 10.”
Notre Dame does have some options, though. Sophie Novak ran 9:48 in the steeple last spring, though she struggled at the Joe Piane Invite on Friday, finishing well back in 100th. But true freshman Grace Schager (9:59 2-mile) made an impressive collegiate debut, finishing 13th overall at Joe Piane and should continue to be a factor as the team moves forward. Between those two, ND does have a margin for error if one of the top five has an off day — which is what happened at Joe Piane when VanderLende DNF’d.
2022 finish: 8th *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #3) *Coach: Diljeet Taylor
BYU has never finished outside of the top 10 since Diljeet Taylor took over in 2016 and that streak should continue this fall. Even last year — a rebuilding season for the Cougars after three straight podium finishes — BYU still managed to finish 8th, and the bulk of that team returns this fall, with only #3 woman McKenna Lee moving on.
Aubrey Frentheway and Lexy Halladay-Lowry were All-Americans a year ago and should continue to lead the way, while Jenna Hutchins has rediscovered the form that saw her set the high school 5,000m record in 2020, running 15:35 on the track last spring. Taylor also expects Riley Chamberlain, who ran 4:33 in the mile in January, to be a factor in her second collegiate cross country season.
Between Chamberlain, Carmen Alder (4:14 1500), and UNC transfer Carlee Hansen (4:14 1500), the Cougars will be counting on a few milers to step up well to the 6k distance in November. Taylor says it is up to her to help them make that transition. She believes that if her team can stay happy and healthy, good things will happen. Whether “good” is a return to the podium or another finish in the 6th to 8th range is to be determined.
“On paper with PRs, I’ve got a pretty dang good team,” Taylor says. “But that might not translate to the grass. My challenge is, let me see what I can do to translate that to the grass.”
2022 finish: 13th *Returners from NCAAs: 7/7 *Coach: J.J. Clark
Stanford was 13th last year with a young team but could be a lot better in 2023. Not only do the Cardinal return their entire top seven from NCAAs, led by 2019 Foot Locker champ Zofia Dudek (20th at NCAAs last year), but coach J.J. Clark brought in an incredible recruiting class. Australia’s Amy Bunnage is the biggest prize — she ran 8:51 last year for 3000, nine seconds faster than any US high schooler in history — and she stepped in right away to finish as Stanford’s top runner at the Virginia Invitational, taking 6th overall. Bunnage joins NXN champ Irene Riggs (9:45 3200 pb) and NXN 7th-placer Sophia Kennedy (daughter of US distance legend Bob Kennedy) to create a formidable freshman trio.
If all three freshmen race (Bunnage and Kennedy already have, but Riggs has not), Stanford could make a big leap in 2023. Even if it’s just Bunnage and Kennedy, Stanford should be very good — in addition to Dudek, Lucy Jenks (15:33 5k pb) is a potential All-American while Audrey DaDamio (16:09 5k), Riley Stewart (16:03 5k), and Grace Connolly (16:01 5k) add depth. Stanford finished on the podium in Clark’s first two years in 2019 and 2020 and with the talent he has assembled in Palo Alto, a return should be coming soon — perhaps as soon as this year.
8) North Carolina
2022 finish: 5th *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #4) *Coach: Chris Miltenberg
North Carolina exceeded expectations with a 5th-place finish at NCAAs last year and the Tar Heels bring back six of their top seven from that team, losing only Natalie Tyner to graduation. They were only 11th at the Virginia Invitational on September 23, but that UNC team did not include Brynn Brown (42nd at NCAAs), Sasha Neglia (62nd) or Taryn Parks (153rd), all of whom will open up at the Nuttycombe Invite on October 13.
UNC will need Kelsey Harrington, who was only 63rd at Virginia, to get back to her 2022 form (17th at NCAA XC) if they are to replicate last year’s result, but this is a strong roster that should finish in the top 10 once again.
2022 finish: 9th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #1, #7) *Coach: Vin Lananna
After cracking the top 10 last year for the first time since 2013, the Cavaliers will be looking to run even better with NCAAs on their home course this November. That task was made more difficult when the team’s top NCAA finisher, Mia Barnett, decided to transfer to UCLA (Barnett subsequently transferred again, to Oregon, when UCLA got rid of coach Sean Brosnan) but Virginia still returns three top-65 finishers in Sophie Atkinson (46th), Margot Appleton (55th), and Anna Workman (65th). With Appleton at a new level in 2023 — she lowered her 5,000 pb from 16:17 to 15:36 — Virginia should be a top-10 team once again this fall.
2022 finish: 14th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #4, #7) *Coach: Jerry Schumacher
Oregon finished 14th last season in year one under Jerry Schumacher and Shalane Flanagan. Their best success came in the spring, however: Izzy Thornton-Batt, Klaudia Kazimierska, and Maddy Elmore all ran 4:08 for the 1500 and made the NCAA final, going 2-4-10 in Austin. All three are back for the Ducks XC squad this fall.
Whether Oregon cracks the top 10 may come down to who ends up running for them this fall. Mia Barnett, who was 44th at NCAAs last year, transferred in from UCLA, but she is not even listed on the Ducks roster and did not run at the Bill Dellinger Invitational on September 22. With her, this could be a top 10 team, but it’s not clear yet whether she will be racing.
Major wild card: Colorado
2022 finish: 11th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #3, #5, #6) *Coach: Mark Wetmore
If we’re talking solely about the talent on the roster, Colorado — despite enduring an internal investigation into the program’s body composition testing — could be a podium team. Bailey Hertenstein was 5th last year and transfer Natalie Cook was 7th as a true freshman; NC State is the only other team that can boast two top-10 returners from a year ago.
Add in Ella Baran (30th last year), Emily Covert (15:35), New Mexico transfer Samree Dishon (37th), and Foot Locker champ Karrie Baloga and you can see why coach Mark Wetmore tells LetsRun “this is one of our best rosters in my memory.” High praise from a man who has coached three NCAA championship squads on the women’s side.
The problem is, Colorado is short-handed right now. Hertenstein, Cook, and Baran all missed the Virginia Invitational, while Dishon was far from her best, finishing 159th. Wetmore would not go into details but it is likely one or more of them are injured and will not race at all in 2023.
“There were some likely varsity people not ready,” Wetmore said when asked about the absences at UVA. “We are working on that. Some will make it back. It looks like some won’t.”
What does that mean for Colorado? Despite Covert running great (5th overall), Colorado was only 9th at the Virginia Invitational. The Buffaloes should improve if they can get reinforcements down the stretch. Exactly how much they improve will depend on who returns, and when.
“Some very talented women probably won’t suit up this season,” Wetmore says. “Still, we can be pretty good by the end.”