2023 NCAA XC Conference Recap: Valby’s Dominance Grows, Stanford Men & UW Women Win Final Pac-12s, Wisconsin Men Score 19

The dust has settled on a busy Friday of collegiate conference cross country action, and we’ve learned a few things. The Wisconsin men are back. So is Stanford. Florida’s Parker Valby is at a whole new level this fall. The NAU women are now the NCAA favorites. And transfers are important – just ask the UNC men and Florida women, who used them to end conference title droughts.

Below, we recap the major takeaways from the four power conference meets held Friday (the Big 12 meet is Saturday). But before we do, a shoutout to the Northern Arizona women, who utterly dominated the Big Sky meet by sweeping the top seven places, led by individual champ Elise Stearns. NAU’s win was a foregone conclusion (the #1 Lumberjacks were the only ranked team in the field) but it still takes a great day across the board to go 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 on an entire conference. The #1 NAU men also won but “only” scored 20 points.

And now, onto the SEC where one of the country’s top runners keeps getting better…

*All NCAA XC results from every conference

SEC Women: Parker Valby’s dominance GROWS — wins by 33 seconds

*Full SEC results

When Florida’s Parker Valby won the SEC meet this morning in South Carolina, a number of fans immediately fixated on the time: 18:37.5. Could that possibly be accurate for a 6,000-meter course?

Frankly, we don’t care. The track internet had the same debate after Valby ran 18:25.9 at SECs last year. What we’re more interested in is Valby’s margin of victory today: 33.8 seconds.

That margin, in and of itself, is impressive. Then consider who Valby beat. The runner-up was Alabama’s Doris Lemngole, who earlier this year won the Joe Piane Invite by 9.2 seconds over last year’s NCAA runner-up Kelsey Chmiel.

And Valby’s entire margin came over the last 2k. Lemngole actually took the lead just before 4k and even opened a small gap before Valby came roaring back with a huge move of her own to break open the race.

The third-placer at SECs was Alabama’s Hilda Olemomoi, who has run 15:17 for 5k. Valby beat her by 46 seconds. Last year, Valby beat Olemomoi by 28.3 seconds at SECs (Olemomoi went on to finish 6th at NCAAs). The gap between the two expanded by 17.7 seconds across the two meets.

If you go back to Nuttycombe, Valby beat Katelyn Tuohy there by 12.3 seconds after losing to her by 3.2 seconds at NCAA XC last year – a turnaround of 15.5 seconds overall. It sure seems like Valby has made a leap from 2022. 

She hasn’t done it by running more. Valby famously does a ton of cross training, and after today’s race, Carrie Tollefson asked Florida coach Will Palmer on the SEC Network broadcast if Valby still only runs three days a week.

Article continues below player.

“Sometimes two,” Palmer said.

Florida also won the team title, 49-59 over Arkansas. Valby was the only holdover from last year as four of the Gators’ top five were transfers new to the team in 2023. Two followed new coach Will Palmer from Alabama and two came over from New Mexico after coach Joe Franklin left. Here’s Florida’s scoring five from SECs today along with the school they represented in XC last season:

1. Parker Valby (Florida)
4. Flomena Asekol (Alabama)
8. Amelia Mazza-Downie (New Mexico)
17. Elise Thorner (New Mexico)
19. Allison Wilson (was at Alabama but had not run XC for them since 2020)

SEC Men: Arkansas wins #28

The Arkansas men were knocked off their usual perch at the top of the SEC last year by Alabama, but the Razorbacks returned with a vengeance on Friday to win the school’s 28th team title. Individually, Alabama’s Victor Kiprop, the defending champion, was four seconds back of leader Patrick Kiprop of Arkansas at halfway, but Victor would close the gap and ultimately pull away to win by eight seconds in 22:23.4.

ACC Men: UNC wins first title since 1985

*Full ACC results

North Carolina’s gradual climb to the top of the ACC is complete. Four years ago, the Tar Heels finished 10th in their first year under Chris Miltenberg, who took over the program after seven years at Stanford. UNC has moved up in the standings every year since then – 9th in 2020, 4th in 2021, 3rd in 2022 – and today took the final step, defeating four other top-20 teams, including #4 Syracuse, to win the program’s first ACC men’s XC title since 1985.

On paper, it looks like a natural progression. In reality, it was anything but. Unsurprisingly, UNC was led by its star Parker Wolfe, last year’s ACC runner-up who today became the first Tar Heel to win the men’s individual title since 1997. But two of North Carolina’s scorers from NCAAs last year, Will Coogan and Patrick Anderson, were involved in a nasty car wreck this spring that has left them unable to compete this fall.

Grad transfers Alex Phillip and Jake Gebhardt have stepped in to pick up the slack, and those two men made the difference at ACCs. Phillip, a two-time DIII XC champ at John Carroll, was 4th and Gebhardt, who ran a 13:37 5k for Indiana, was 9th to give UNC four in the top 10 and clinch a 49-65 victory over Syracuse.

The Orange beat UNC by 148 points at Nuttycombe two weeks ago, finishing 3rd overall. But while Syracuse’s top two of Paul O’Donnell (2nd ACCs) and Perry Mackinnon (5th) ran well today, their #4 and #5 men from Nuttycombe both had disastrous days. Alex Comerford (76th Nuttycombe) was a DNF at ACCs, while Matthew Scrape (106th Nuttycombe) finished 117th at ACCs.

There was one notable absence in the men’s race: Wake Forest superfrosh Rocky Hansen, who beat Wolfe at Nuttycombe. Wake coach John Hayes told LetsRun Hansen “got a little banged up at Wisconsin” but is optimistic Hansen can run at NCAAs if they can make it there. Another source told us it was a foot injury.

ACC Women: NC State finally runs its full team and wins, but…

There was good news and bad news for NC State fans today. The good news: Katelyn Tuohy cruised to her second straight individual win, leading the Wolfpack to their eighth straight ACC team title. NC State scored 37 points – just three more than last year, when they went on to win NCAAs. And Sam Bush (who didn’t finish at Nuttycombe two weeks ago) and Amaris Tyynismaa (who didn’t start) both ran.

The bad news is that neither Bush nor Tyynismaa are close to their best right now, and NCAAs are just three weeks away. Bush, who was 15th at NCAAs last year, was 11th today. Tyynismaa, who was 9th at NCAAs last year, was in 15th at 5k but wound up dropping out after her calf cramped up with 800 to go.

Tuohy and Kelsey Chmiel (3rd today) are the best 1-2 punch in America, and freshman Leah Stephens (14th Nuttycombe, 8th today) continues to pass every test. Even without a full-strength Bush or Tyynismaa, NC State is still a very strong team, but they will likely need them if they are to three-peat at NCAAs. 

Heading into today, NCAAs looked like a toss-up between Northern Arizona and NC State – but that was assuming Bush and Tyynismaa returned at close to their best. After today’s results, it’s advantage NAU.

Pac-12 Men: Robinson & Stanford win the final edition, Birnbaum DNS


The Stanford men have been having a rough season in 2023. Ranked #4 in the preseason, the Cardinal finished 9th at the Virginia Invitational on September 23, then a shocking 20th at Nuttycombe on October 13. Today, the Cardinal ran their best race of the season as Ky Robinson (individual champ in 22:40.2) led Stanford to the team title with 41 points to Washington’s 50 and Oregon’s 60. #9 Colorado, the only top-10 team in the field, could only manage 4th with 81 points.

With the conference dissolving after the 2023-24 academic year, this was the last Pac-12 XC championships and Stanford earned eternal bragging rights as they have now won 17 titles, one more than Oregon’s 16. Though it should be noted, Colorado has dominated the conference since joining in 2011, winning eight of the 13 titles on offer since then.

While individual champion Robinson is a true distance guy, winning the 5k/10k at NCAA outdoors in June, a number of mid-d specialists performed very well in this race. NCAA mile champ Luke Houser and NCAA 1500 champ Nathan Green, both of Washington, went 2-3 to lead the Huskies to a runner-up finish, the team’s best result since 2018. And 5th placer Elliott Cook of Oregon was the Pac-12 800 champ in 2022 and owns a pb of 1:46. Impressive range.

As for the big question, would Oregon coach Jerry Schumacher run his star freshmen, the answer was: kind of. Connor Burns and Archie Noakes both ran, finishing 29th and 43rd, respectively. But Simeon Birnbaum did not – curious considering Birnbaum beat both Burns and Noakes convincingly when the trio raced unattached at the Dellinger Invitational earlier this season. Birnbaum finished 3rd at Dellinger, right between teammates Quincy Norman and Josh Edwards, who were 7th and 6th at Pac-12s today. Had Birnbaum run and finished right behind them in 8th, Oregon would have moved up from 3rd to 2nd; he would have had to have finished in the top 2 for Oregon to win the title.

Speaking of freshmen, Stanford’s Lex Young was the top true frosh in 12th, stepping up as Stanford’s fourth man to help deliver the team title (twin brother Leo did not run). Fellow true freshman Tyrone Gorze of Washington finished 19th.

Pac-12 Women: Washington edges Stanford as true frosh Bunnage wins it


With six ranked teams, the women’s race at Pac-12s figured to be the most competitive of the day, and it did not disappoint. #19 Washington was just the fourth-highest-ranked team at the meet but it was the Huskies that earned their first conference title since 2009 and will forever be known as the final Pac-12 champions, edging #5 Stanford, 58-60.

Individually, 18-year-old Aussie Amy Bunnage continued her impressive rookie season as she earned the title in 19:09.7 over Oregon State’s Grace Fetherstonhaugh (19:15.1). The Beavers’ Kaylee Mitchell, who was the top Pac-12 finisher at Nuttycombe two weeks ago (5th) took 3rd today in 19:19.9.

Big 10 Men: The regular season means nothing anymore / Wisconsin wins #54 in style

*Full Big 10 results

Two weeks ago, Wisconsin coach Mick Byrne sat out four of his top runners from the Nuttycombe Invitational – the midseason mega-meet that Wisconsin hosts annually on its home course. Byrne told LetsRun that Bob Liking, Adam Spencer, Micah Wilson, and Josh Truchon did not race because “we want to be better in November.”

All four raced today at Big 10s, and the Badgers put on a show, going 1-2-4-5-7-10 to score 19 points – the lowest total at Big 10s since Wisconsin’s 2011 NCAA title team. That’s a dominant performance worthy of praise, but it’s nothing new for Wisconsin, who has now won 54 Big 10 titles (13 under Byrne, who surpassed former Badgers boss Martin Smith for the most by a single coach). Last year, Wisconsin scored 25 points at Big 10s. The year before that, they scored 27. The knock on the Badgers is that they’ve run their best race at Big 10s, rather than NCAAs. Last year, they were 6th at NCAAs, and just 11th the year before that.

Maybe Byrne’s new approach in 2023 will change that. But the fact that the coach of the school who organizes the biggest meet of the regular season does not think that meet is important enough to send his best team shows you just how little regular-season cross country means these days. (To be fair to Byrne, Spencer’s track season did not end until August 20 at Worlds, so we can understand why he did not open up until today).

Wisconsin’s Bob Liking won his third straight individual title, the first man to do that since Badger legend Simon Bairu from 2003-05. Next year, Liking has the chance to become one of just four men to win four titles. You may be familiar with the other three: Craig Virgin (Illinois), Bob Kennedy (Indiana), and Kevin Sullivan (Michigan).

Big 10 Women: Engel & Michigan State repeat

The winners of the 2023 Big 10 titles were identical to the winners of the 2022 Big 10 titles as Ohio State’s Addie Engel and Michigan State both repeated as champions. Both improved their winning margins in 2023 as Engel won by 9.5 seconds over Wisconsin’s Leane Willemse (compared to 4.6 seconds in ‘22) while the MSU women won 46-81 over Wisconsin compared to 78-86 over Michigan last year.

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