2023 Nuttycombe: NAU Sweeps as Parker Valby Takes Down Katelyn Tuohy

Valby looked sensational as the NAU women were great as well

Friday’s Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational was a huge day for Northern Arizona University and a huge day for Florida’s Parker Valby. NAU became the first school to sweep the championship races in Nuttycombe’s 15-year history as the men won handily, 76-162 over BYU, and the women upset #1 NC State 52-95 – though the Wolfpack were missing a few key contributors.

As expected, the women’s individual race was a duel between NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy and Valby, who went 1-2 at NCAA XC last year in Stillwater. Unlike their race 11 months ago, Tuohy went with Valby’s aggressive pace but could not hold on as Valby broke her just after halfway and streaked to the win in 19:17.2 for 6k, breaking Allie Ostrander’s 19:19 course record from 2015. The time was particularly impressive given the miserable conditions – 51 degrees, 19 mph wind, and driving rain leading to muddy footing. Tuohy was 2nd in 19:29.5 – 23 seconds ahead of her NC State teammate Kelsey Chmiel in 3rd but 12 seconds behind Valby.

In the men’s race, the lead pack remained inseparable for much of the way, with a dozen men remaining in contention during the final mile. It was not until the final downhill, with just over 400 meters to run, that Harvard’s Graham Blanks made his move, opening an immediate gap and going on to win in 23:23.4 for 8k. NAU’s Nico Young finished as runner-up for the second straight year in 23:26.1 with New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel, an NCAA newcomer from Eritrea, 3rd in 23:26.2 and reigning Nuttycombe champion Ky Robinson of Stanford 4th in the same time. Wake Forest’s Rocky Hansen continued his outstanding freshman season by finishing 6th in 23:27.2. *Full Results

Analysis below. The NAU men rolled while the women upset #1 NC State, 52 points to 95. Harvard’s Graham Blanks won the men’s race.

The NC State women got beat handily by NAU today but they still have a pathway to a 3-peat 

Today the women’s team battle between NAU (52 points) and NC State (95) wasn’t close. NC State’s 5th runner, freshman Hannah Gapes, almost scored more points (50) than the entire NAU team.

However, it would be foolish to rule NC State out of the team battle at NCAAs next month.

First of all, the scores today were fairly close through four runners (34 for NAU, 45 for NC State), but more importantly NC State didn’t get any contribution from two total studs. NC 5th-year senior Sam Bush, who was 15th at NCAAs last year and 32nd in 2021, ran today but recorded a DNF.

And Alabama transfer Amaris Tyynismaa, the redshirt junior who was 9th at NCAAs last year and third in 2021, didn’t run at all. Both women were coming off injuries this summer so there is some uncertainty about their form. But if one or both are ready by NCAAs, NC State should be in the thick of it.

At 4k today, if you only score the top 4 runners, NC State was actually ahead 35 to 48.

The younger Wolfpack runners deserve credit for stepping up today and helping NC State to 2nd place. After veterans Tuohy and Chmiel, NC State’s next three scorers were freshmen: Leah Stephens (14th), Grace Hartman (26th), and Gapes (50th).

That said, NAU was incredible today

NC State was not at full strength, but that shouldn’t overshadow just how well Northern Arizona ran today. Against a field that featured 22 of the top 30 teams in the USTFCCCA poll – and four of the top five (only #3 Oklahoma State was missing) – the Lumberjacks scored just 52 points. That’s a very good sign. Since 2011 (when the meet went big-time), every women’s team that has won with under 90 points at Nuttycombe has gone on to win the national title.

Lowest winning scores at Nuttycombe since 2011

Year Team Points NCAA result
2015 New Mexico 32 1st
2023 Northern Arizona 52 ???
2019 Arkansas 62 1st
2022 NC State 80 1st
2018 Colorado 80 1st
2017 New Mexico 87 1st
2014 Michigan State 87 1st

The Lumberjacks were expected to be good this year after bolstering a 6th-place team from last year with some strong new additions, particularly from New Mexico, whose program saw an exodus after coach Joe Franklin left for Louisville. In fact, more women in NAU’s top seven ran a race for New Mexico last year (3) than for NAU (2).

NAU’s top 7 at 2023 Nuttycombe
4. Elise Stearns (4th at NCAAs for NAU last year)
8. Gracelyn Larkin (New Mexico transfer)
10. Annika Reiss (47th at NCAAs for NAU last year)
12. Aliandrea Upshaw (New Mexico transfer)
18. Keira Moore (Australian who redshirted last fall for NAU)
24. Ruby Smee (San Francisco transfer)
44. Maisie Grice (New Mexico transfer)

Parker Valby’s run today was one of the greatest we’ve ever seen in a regular-season collegiate XC race

We try not to freak out about cross country times because conditions and courses can vary greatly. But there’s no denying that Parker Valby’s run today was very, very special.

Article continues below player.

Over the past decade, almost every top NCAA runner has run the Wisconsin course at some point and Valby now has run faster than all of them, running a course record of 19:17.2. That in itself is impressive, but when you factor in the conditions – rain, mud, and 19 mph winds – it’s clear she could have gone a lot faster.

Then there’s the fact that she beat reigning NCAA champion Katelyn Tuohy, the NCAA record holder at the mile and 3k, by 12 seconds, and everyone else in the field by 35. This was utter domination. This was Valby’s first race since winning the NCAA 5,000 title in June and she already appears to be operating at a higher level than her fantastic 2022 form.

Last year at NCAAs, Tuohy let Valby go early, trusting that she would be strong enough to reel Valby in over the second half. That’s exactly what happened. But Valby looks stronger in 2023. If Tuohy lets Valby go early this year, she may never catch back up.

That said, it’s not as if Tuohy ran poorly today. Like Valby, this was her season opener, and Tuohy’s time of 19:29.5 today was 15 seconds faster than she ran at Nuttycombe last year (in better conditions). NCAAs are five weeks away and we would not be surprised if she has closed the gap by then.

The NAU women got the upset win but Oregon State was the biggest women’s overachiever on the day as Providence struggled

There were 22 ranked women’s team in the field today and the last of those ranked teams, #30 Oregon State, had a great day as they finished 7th overall. Looking in the other direction, 18th-ranked Providence, who came in seeded 12th in this race, was only 24th.

Only two unranked teams beat any of the ranked teams as Harvard was 19th and Duke 21st. 

Team Preseason Current National Rank Seed Finish Difference Between Seed & Finish
NC State 1 1 1 2 1
Northern Arizona 2 2 2 1 -1
Notre Dame 4 4 3 6 3
Stanford 8 5 4 4 0
Washington 15 8 5 12 7
Florida 9 9 6 5 -1
Colorado 5 10 7 14 7
Georgetown 11 11 8 3 -5
California Baptist 24 12 9 8 -1
Iowa State 27 13 10 11 1
Michigan State 17 14 11 9 -2
Providence 14 14 12 24 12
Furman 30 18 13 18 5
Utah 22 20 14 15 1
North Carolina 6 21 15 22 7
Ole Miss   22 16 13 -3
Wisconsin 18 23 17 16 -1
Syracuse 30 25 18 20 2
New Mexico 21 26 19 25 6
Colorado State 26 28 20 17 -3
Lipscomb RV 29 21 10 -11
Oregon State 20 30 22 7 -15

It was a good day for freshwomen from Australia.

There were three freshmen in the top 20 in the women’s race and two of them were Australian.

Stanford’s super recruit Amy Bunnage did not disappoint as she was the only one to go with Tuohy and Valby and wound up 13th. The 18-year old, who ran 4:14.62 in 2021 as a 16-year-old and has pbs of 8:51.90 for 3000 and 15:21.76 for 5000, was just one spot ahead of NC State freshman Leah Stephens, who was 7th at Champs XC (Foot Locker) last year. Another Aussie, NAU’s Keira Moore, who ran 4:26.50 for 1500 in 2020 as a 16-year-old, was 18th.

Looking at the men’s team results, host Wisconsin bombed and Furman, New Mexico and Princeton overachieve

There were 23 ranked men’s teams competing today. Host and 4th ranked Wisconsin started the race as the #3 seed but they were awful and only 22nd. In terms of positive developments, the last of the ranked teams, #29 Princeton who was the 23rd seed, was 12th.

Four unranked teams finished in the top 23, led by Furman.

Unranked Teams In The Top 23
Furman 9
New Mexico 14
Boise St. 18
Georgetown 23

Team Preseason Current Rank Seed Finish Difference
Northern Arizona 1 1 1 1 Same
BYU 3 3 2 2 Same
Wisconsin 5 4 3 22 19
North Carolina 6 5 4 10 6
Syracuse 11 6 5 3 -2
Villanova 12 7 6 8 2
Air Force 17 8 7 19 12
Notre Dame 8 9 8 11 3
Texas 13 11 9 5 -4
Butler 19 12 10 24 14
Stanford 4 13 11 20 9
California Baptist 28 14 12 4 -8
Eastern Kentucky RV 15 13 17 4
Harvard 14 16 14 6 -8
Wake Forest RV 18 15 16 1
Florida State 29 19 16 28 12
Colorado 7 20 17 7 -10
Gonzaga 30 23 18 26 8
Iowa State 25 23 19 13 -6
Iona   25 20 21 1
Michigan 27 26 21 15 -6
NC State 21 27 22 31 9
Princeton 24 29 23 12 -11

A statement win by Harvard’s Graham Blanks

Individually, the men’s race in Madison was loaded. NAU’s Nico Young and Drew Bosley, the top two returners from last year’s NCAA meet, were both there. So was Stanford’s NCAA 5k/10k champ Ky Robinson. And New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel, who has run 13:13/27:20 on the track and just crushed everyone at Roy Griak. Whoever won today would have a strong case as the favorite for NCAAs next month in Virginia, and the winner today was Harvard’s Graham Blanks, who was 6th at NCAA XC last year and 2nd in the NCAA 5,000 in June.

But it wasn’t just the fact that Blanks won today; it’s how he won. Coming in, most pundits would have favored Robinson in a close race given the terrific closing speed he showed to win a pair of NCAA titles on the track last spring. Robinson was leading with 500 to go today, but neither he nor anyone else could handle Blanks, who put more than two seconds on the field over the last 450.

A sensational run. Just don’t ask Blanks how he did it. When Mike Jay asked Blanks on the broadcast how he would prepare for the final weeks of the season, Blanks offered the following response: “Listen to my coach (Alex Gibby). I don’t really know much about training.”

True frosh Rocky Hansen of Wake Forest was fantastic

As was the case in the women’s race, there were three freshmen in the top 20 and two of them came from New Mexico.

As mentioned above, New Mexico’s Eritrean super frosh Habtom Samuel, who turns 20 next month, was 3rd but that wasn’t a shock as he’s a two-time world junior bronze medallist who has pbs of 13:13 and 27:20.

Wake Forest freshman Rocky Hansen was amazing last year on the track, running 3:58.23 for mile and 8:35.22 for 2 miles in high school, but he wasn’t amazing in XC as he was “only” 11th at the Champs XC race last year (Foot Locker). So far in 2023, he’s showing his talent does play well on grass and even mud, as he was 6th overall today after finishing 5th earlier in the year at UVA.

Evans Kiplagat of Kenya, whom we believe is 18, was also 18th for New Mexico.

Many of the other star freshmen recruits did not race on Friday. Foot Locker champ Kole Mathison of Colorado, NXN champ Aaron Sahlman of NAU, and US U20 XC champ Leo Young of Stanford all sat this one out – none even raced in the B race. Leo’s twin brother Lex Young did race for Stanford, finishing 86th in the championship race.

Preseason top-5 teams Stanford and Wisconsin were awful today

The Stanford men have qualified for every NCAA Cross Country Championship since 1994. During that span, the Cardinal has never finished worse than 19th at NCAAs. Which makes sense – between Stanford’s world-class academics, picturesque campus, and history of athletic success, they bring in top recruiting classes year after year.

Today, Stanford finished 20th at the Nuttycombe Invitational.

The Cardinal could still turn things around but so far they are struggling in 2023 after being ranked 4th in the USTFCCCA preseason poll. Stanford suffered some key losses from last year’s team in NCAA champion Charles Hicks (who turned pro) and Devin Hart (who is now in grad school at Texas and finished 17th today) but there is still talent on the roster. Robinson ran great today as usual, but Cole Sprout (13:24/27:42) was 84th after finishing 62nd at UVA three weeks ago and Stanford’s only other finisher in the top 100 was true freshman Lex Young.

Wisconsin was even worse, finishing 22nd on their home course after entering the race ranked #4 in the country. Like Stanford, their Australian #1 runner was very good (Jackson Sharp was 5th) but everyone else struggled. Though it should be noted the Badgers did not run two-time Big 10 XC champ Bob Liking.

Props to Cal Baptist for finishing 4th overall

From 2018-21, Cla Baptist was ineligible to compete at the NCAA championships as the school transitioned from Division II to Division I. Finally able to compete in the postseason last year, the CBU women made it to NCAAs and finished 29th and it looks like the Lancer women should be back again in 2023 after finishing 8th today.

But the real story for CBU was the men’s team. Last year, the CBU men were one of the first teams out of nationals. This year, they’ll almost certainly be there as they finished 4th today. Not bad for a team that was DII only a few years ago.

Be a fan and talk about the action on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard.

Did you enjoy this article? Then you’ll likely enjoy our pre-race feature on NC State:

The Last Dance Begins for Katelyn Tuohy and the NC State Women With Tuohy, Kelsey Chmiel, and Sam Bush back for one last go-round, NC State’s quest for a 3rd straight title hits high gear at Friday’s Nuttycombe Invitational.

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards