Laurie Henes Says Katelyn Tuohy “Is In Better Shape Than She’s Ever Been” Ahead of 2023 NCAA XC Meet

And Vin Lananna explains why Saturday's meet is sold out

The 2023 NCAA Cross Country Championships are on Saturday, and in case you missed it, the big pre-race news is that North Carolina State star Kelsey Chmiel, a three-time top-10 finisher who was 3rd overall last year, will not be running due to a lower-leg injury. Chmiel was vital to NC State’s hopes of a third straight team title, and with her on the sidelines, Northern Arizona is now heavily favored to win its first women’s XC championship.

We were on the course on Friday morning to speak with the athletes and coaches ahead of the big race. Here are the two most important things we learned, outside of Chmiel’s injury.

We broke this down on our Friday 15 podcast. If you’d like all the podcast episodes, including a post-NCAAs podcast, join our Supporters Club today.

Laurie Henes says Katelyn Tuohy “is in better shape than she’s ever been”

It’s been a stressful week in Raleigh for the NC State women as their medical staff had been doing everything they could to get Chmiel ready to run. Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, that won’t happen, meaning Chmiel won’t get the chance at the unique accomplishment of becoming a five-time All-American in cross country (Chmiel was 22nd in 2019, 9th in 2020, 6th in 2021, and 3rd in 2022, with the 2020 result not counting against her eligibility due to COVID rules).

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“It’s just a little bit hard, energy-wise on the team, just because Kelsey is the heart and soul of the program,” Henes said.

The good news is that NC State’s other star is all systems go. Katelyn Tuohy, who on Saturday will attempt to become the first woman in 12 years to win back-to-back individual NCAA cross country titles, is in the shape of her life, according to Henes.

“All I can say is Katelyn is in better shape than she’s ever been,” Henes said.

That’s high praise considering Tuohy won NCAA XC last year, won NCAA track titles in June 2022 (outdoor 5k) and March 2023 (indoor 3k/5k) and set NCAA records in the indoor mile (4:24.26), 3,000 (8:35.20), and outdoor 5,000 (15:03.12) earlier this year. Tuohy was beaten by Florida’s Parker Valby by 12 seconds at the Nuttycombe Invitational on October 13 — her first cross country defeat in almost two years — but Henes believes she is in better shape than a month ago. She may need to be if she is to repeat as Valby has been otherworldly this fall.

“We can’t control what anyone else does, but she’s in good shape and ready to go,” Henes said.

Tuohy also revealed at the pre-race press conference that initially she was not planning on racing Nuttycombe. She and Henes had decided Tuohy would only run ACCs and NCAAs, but when it came time to race, Tuohy couldn’t help herself and asked Henes to run in Wisconsin.

“It’s a fun one and the girls were really excited and I knew if I wasn’t racing, I’d feel like I was missing out,” Tuohy said.

UVA coach Vin Lananna explains why Saturday’s meet is sold out

“Sold-out cross country race” is not a phrase you hear very often. Most cross country races don’t draw big crowds to begin with, and since the event does not take place in a stadium, there is no hard cap on attendance. But the host school, the University of Virginia, announced Thursday that Saturday’s meet is sold out and they are expecting around 5,000 fans on the course, not counting athletes, staff, and coaches.

UVA director of track & field and cross country Vin Lananna did not elaborate on what, specifically, was the limiting factor preventing more fans from attending but said that the group charged with planning the event felt that they would not be able to handle more than 7,000 people on the course. That meant selling around 5,000 tickets with the rest of the attendance comprised of athletes, coaches, support staff, media, UVA workers/volunteers. Previously, the largest attendance for a meet at Panorama Farms was around 1,200, Lananna said.

“We feel like on this farm, we could probably handle somewhere between 6,500-7,000 for everybody to have a great experience,” Lananna said. “I think it’s the greatest thing in the world that this meet is sold-out.”

There will be no on-site parking for fans; instead they’ll park at the Fashion Square Mall five miles from the course and be shuttled over to the course at Panorama Farms by almost 50 buses. And while there are people who want to go who do not currently have tickets, each school was given the opportunity to purchase up to four tickets per competing athlete so that the athletes’ friends and family could attend.

According to the USTFCCCA, Saturday’s meet will have the highest paid attendance of any NCAA XC championship in recent years. Here are the numbers for the last five editions:

2018 – 4,030 (Madison, Wisc.)
2019 – 2,977 (Terre Haute, Ind.)
2020 – Limited due to COVID (Stillwater, Okla.)
2021 – 2,449 (Tallahassee, Fla.)
2022 – 3,240 (Stillwater, Okla.)

In reality, there was more people on the course than the numbers above, however, as they don’t include athletes/staff/etc. Wisconsin’s athletics communication department told us there were likely more than 6,000 people on the course in Madison in 2018.

Accurate attendance numbers for a meet like this are always tough to find so it will be interesting to see how many people turn up on Saturday. But the fact that we are talking about a shortage of tickets rather than a surplus is a good thing for the sport. It is also worth noting that this is the first time the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast part of the country has hosted the NCAA XC meet since Lehigh (Bethlehem, Pa.) in 1993. The meet has not been this close to the most densely-populated area of the country for three decades.

We broke this down on our Friday 15 podcast. If you’d like all the podcasts, including a post-NCAAs podcast, join our Supporters Club today.

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