NCAA Cross Country Championships Preview and Predictions
Breaking down the top teams and athletes to watch + who we think will win on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Oklahoma State.
The NCAA Cross Country Championships are upon us. 31 men’s and women’s teams will race. Two champions will emerge. Oklahoma State University is set to host the 2022 NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, November 19th. The women’s race will begin at 10:20 a.m. ET with the men’s race slated to follow at 11:10 a.m. You’ll be able to watch the races uninterrupted on ESPNU starting at 10 a.m. where Kyle Merber will be on the broadcast and making his own ESPN debut.
To preview all of the main storylines and share some predictions, I called up cross country guru Isaac Wood of The Wood Report for an episode of The CITIUS MAG Podcast. You can catch the whole conversation here…
Or, if reading is more your thing, I’ve transcribed a few of the highlights from our conversation below:
The Women’s Team Race Is Shaping Up To Be An All-Timer Between N.C. State and New Mexico
“I got a few texts after making the bold declaration that: ‘Honestly, it might be the best women’s team ever.’ [N.C. State is] still really good. I don’t know if they’ll score 30 or 40 points now. If New Mexico wasn’t around, they’d be able to score that low. New Mexico also might have one of the top 10 best all-time women’s teams. It’s no longer how much will N.C. State win by but instead a question of whether there can be two teams scoring 50 or 60 points at NCAAs and not win. That will be wild. New Mexico is ready to give N.C. State a major run. In a lot of ways, they have it a bit easier because the target isn’t on their backs. That’s firmly planted on the Wolfpack.
“For New Mexico, it’s about how low their low stick is going to score. Katelyn Tuohy is going to be either first or second for N.C. State, so how well will Garcelyn Larkin, Samree Dishon or Amelia Mazza-Downie score as the Lady Lobos’ top woman? The thing that makes them so interesting is they have five women who can be their No. 1 on the day. That’s what makes their depth so good and so scary to N.C. State. They can have a 1 to 3-second spread at NCAAs – but it’s a question of how high up are they? If the top woman can finish in the top 10, it will be gut-check time for N.C. State on where their pack comes in. This is a team race so your first, second, third, fourth and fifth all matter. There’s pressure on everyone to perform.
“This feels like a battle of the titans. If Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith is reading or listening to this, he’s probably sitting there laughing because this is his home course and he’s got the athletes that can pull this off too.”
Oklahoma State’s Natalie Cook and Taylor Roe Went 2-3 At The Midwest Regional And Made It Look Easy. Now They’re On Their Home Course.
“This is exactly how Oklahoma State wants it. There’s little to no pressure on them. They have stars up front with Roe and Cook. No one is really talking about their 3-4-5 (Gabby Hentemann, Billah Jepkirui and Sivan Auerbach), who are also good. It’s their home course. They know this place better than anyone else. If you watched the Cowboy Jamboree a few weeks ago, you notice how perfectly Alex Maier powered up the top of one of the hills to breakaway and perfectly win that race. He knew exactly when to go. The women are going to be the same. If they are within striking distance within a mile or a kilometer to go… if I’m New Mexico or N.C. State, I’m trying to run away from them as early as I can – especially their 3-4-5.”
Alabama Has A Good Podium Shot
“I like Alabama. I’m trying to understand where the hate is for their coaching ranking at No. 5. At the South Regional Championship, they put four women all together with a 34-point finish to go 2-3-4-5. It was Mercy Chelangat, Amaris Tyynismaa, Hilda Olemomoi and Flomena Asekol all together. This is a really, really good team. Chelangat won the race last time at Oklahoma State. For all the talk about Florida’s Parker Valby vs. N.C. State’s Katelyn Tuohy, you don’t think Chelangat is going to be there for a long time up toward the front? C’mon now! She will be. When you’re scoring that low, you’re basically only scoring four. The one drawback for the Crimson Tide is that their No. 5 was a bit further back. Elka Machan is a 16:33 runner for 5000m so she’s still pretty good in that spot. I think they’ve been underrated all year.”
Notre Dame Looked Really Good At The Great Lakes Region
“For coach Matt Sparks, it’s taken a little while to get this team to this level. The Fighting Irish scored 33 points to win their second consecutive Great Lakes Regional title. They’ve been building to this for a while. These are women who have been around for a long time with Maddy Denner and Olivia Markezich (who won the regional championship) as their top two. They’ve got the experience. I think they’re battle-proven and legit. I was a little bearish on them early on in the season but they’ve really come into their own. They’re in the conversation for the fourth podium spot.
I think right now it’s pretty clearly N.C. State, New Mexico and Oklahoma State… going into this meet with a shot of winning. Then you’ve got Alabama, Notre Dame, BYU, Colorado and NAU who are all hoping to get the final podium spot.”
The Case For…
Katelyn Tuohy as individual women’s champion
“Tuohy beat Valby head-to-head the last time they raced at the NCAA Championships 5000m final. Tuohy knows she can beat Valby. She can sit on Valby and be OK. You also can’t forget that Tuohy has run 4:06.84 for 1500m. If she can let Valby do the work and then go by her toward the finish, that could be her best way to win.”
Parker Valby as individual women’s champion
“She might have to run away with it. She has to get away from Tuohy with enough space to withstand a kick. She might have to kick a mile out. She has some strong victories this season when we saw her beat Chelangat at the SEC Cross Country Championship and at the South Regional.”
Taylor Roe or Natalie Cook as individual women’s champion
“They know the course so well. It’s nice to have a teammate next to you in a battle like the NCAA Championships. Having them together helps. They can move together. They can kick together. If they’re close with a kilometer or 800m to go, I can see them making a bid for the upset.”
Mercy Chelangat as individual women’s champion
“Been there, done that. Chelangat has taken care of business.”
West Virginia’s Ceili McCabe
“She hasn’t lost a race all year. She won the Penn State National Open and Louisville Classic in October. She won the Big 12 Championship ahead of Roe and Jepkircui and Cook. She won the Mid-Atlantic Regional by five seconds. I like her track credentials as a 9:31 steeplechaser last year. She’s run 8:52 for 3000m – which is faster than Parker Valby. Coach Sean Cleary’s athletes run well at NCAAs too.”
Harvard’s Maia Ramsden
“She won the Northeast Regional championship and Heps at Van Cortlandt Park. She was 7th at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin. She was 7th at the Cowboy Jamboree so she’s got some experience on the course. She’s got great leg speed with personal bests of 4:12 for 1500m and 4:36 for the mile. Alex Gibby is a great coach. I think she’s a sleeper.”
Utah Valley’s Everyln Kemboi
“She won the Mountain Regional. She won the WAC Conference. She was 13th at Nuttycombe. She won Paul Short at Lehigh and was third at the Cowboy Jamboree. She’ll be in the hunt for a while.”
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The Tightest Men’s Team Title In Recent Years
“Stanford, NAU, BYU and Oklahoma State can win. There’s a scenario for each one.
“I think this is finally the time for Stanford. They haven’t won a team title since 2003. I think coach Ricardo Santos is due for a trophy. He’s had a lot of good teams at Iona in the past. This could be a breakthrough day. They’re just so proven upfront. Charles Hicks, Cole Sprout and Ky Robinson are all really good and they have been all year. Then, you throw in a sorta-unknown like Meika Beaudoin-Rousseau, who was sixth at the Pac-12 Championships and sixth at the West Regional, as their X factor. They’re too proven and too strong to blow this one. I don’t think they will.
“The battle for second is maybe more intriguing to me.
“BYU has a chance because Casey Clinger has yet to win a team title and he’s hungry for it. He should’ve won a few in high school at American Fork in Utah. He could’ve won some at BYU but he also served a full-time mission in Sapporo, Japan in 2019 and 2020. The BYU team from his freshman year in 2019 should’ve won but NAU dominated BYU, who faded to third. He’s ready to lead a team to a win. He’ll be aided by Weber State transfer Christian Allen, who is a two-time cross country All-American. They had a 1.9-second spread at Wisconsin without Clinger or Allen. WITHOUT THEM!? They can win if Clinger and Allen have top 10 days and their spread stays within five to 10 seconds.
“NAU has a chance because they have the ultimate low stick if Nico Young can pull off the win. If they can run the race as smart as they did two years ago, they’ll be in the mix. NAU always runs the smartest and most patient at the national championships. They can win with that discipline but it might also depend on whether they can get a big day out of true freshman Colin Sahlman.
“If Oklahoma State wins, it’s because of Dave Smith’s savviness throughout the season. He hasn’t run their entire top five together in one race. That’s on purpose. He can tell his team. ‘Look how well we’ve run and we’ve yet to put it all together. Now we’re putting it all together and this is the time.’ They’re going to field a squad led by Alex Maier, Isai “Rodriguez, Victor Shitsama, Rory Leonard and Fouad Messaoudi. This is their home course. They’re motivated by the fact that they’re putting it all together on the day.
“You can look at it this way…
STANFORD VS. BYU VS. NAU VS. OKLAHOMA STATE BREAKDOWN
“Charles Hicks vs. Casey Clinger vs. Nico Young vs. Alex Maier;
Cole Sprout vs. Christian Allen vs. Drew Bosely vs. Isai Rodriguez;
Ky Robinson vs. Brandon Garnica vs. George Kusche vs. Victor Shitsama;
“All four of those teams have a top three that are really good. There’s honestly a chance that in the top 20, you’ve got something like 12 guys from just four schools. If we run this through my simulator 10 times, I’m sure you’d have each of those four schools winning at least once.
“I’ll predict that at least one of those four will have a bummer of a day. That course is so hard that someone will have an athlete that drops out or has a rough day. If that happens, that opens the door for someone like Air Force, Tulsa, Wake Forest or Wisconsin to crack the podium.”
Tulsa Deserves More Credit
“I feel like coach Steve Gulley doesn’t get enough credit. He’s been there 21 years. He developed the likes of Marc Scott and Pat Dever. Every year, they’ve got dudes that are running really well. It just hit me that when people talk about the Mt. Rushmore of NCAA cross-country coaches, his name isn’t brought up much. Who has been more consistent than Tulsa in recent years outside of NAU and BYU?”
Wisconsin Hits The Postseason
“I like them. I was trying to put together a list of each team’s key runners and I wasn’t sure where to draw the line for them. They have some depth led by Bob Liking and Jackson Sharp. Adam Spencer is maybe the biggest Wildcard for the Badgers. He’s a really good middle distance runner with personal bests of 3:37 for 1500m and 3:57 for the mile. They ran him at the Big Ten Championships and he was 6th overall. They held him out of the regional championships so he wouldn’t have back-to-back 10Ks on his legs. Can a middle distance runner run well on a tough course like Oklahoma State? It’s a good question.”
Notre Dame has surprised me
“I thought that with coach Sean Carlson’s departure for Tennessee and Dylan Jacobs’s transfer to the Vols, they’d struggle. They didn’t run great at the ACC Championship, where they finished fourth but snagged the individual title. We thought they’d be in a rebuilding stage. Do you know who has thrived for Notre Dame this year? True freshman Izaiah Steury. He’s come on of late. He was ninth at the ACC Championship to finish as the top freshman. He was sixth at the Great Lakes Regional. Can he handle back-to-back 10Ks as a true freshman? We’ll see. Kudos to coach Sparks and the staff at Notre Dame for getting that going.”
The Case For…
NAU’s Nico Young as individual champion
The NAU sophomore is the favorite for many people after finishing 11th last year as a freshman. He put together a phenomenal track season with personal bests of 3:56 for the mile and 13:11 for 5000m. He finished 5th at the Cowboy Jamboree in September but that may be too early in the year to draw conclusions from. He’s riding the momentum of victories at the Big Sky Championship and Mountain Regional.
Stanford’s Charles Hicks as individual champion
He finished 14th the last time NCAAs was at Oklahoma State and then took fourth last November in Tallahassee so he’s the top returner. The man thrives in cross country. He also won the U23 European Cross Country Championship title last year. He took third at the Jamboree and Nuttycomb so he’s been in the mix at major races. He just won the Pac-12 Championships and West Regional. A similar case could be made for Cole Sprout but he’s just been a step or two behind Hicks at most races.
Oklahoma State’s Alex Maier as individual champion
He’s got home field advantage and won the Jamboree and Big 12 Championships. The only blemish on his resume was taking 12th at the Midwest Regional.
BYU’s Casey Clinger as individual champion
The man is hungry. Go back and read the section on the team battle.
Stanford’s Ky Robinson
He won the Nuttycombe Invitational. I remember watching and was like, ‘Wait…That’s not Hicks or Sprout?! Good for him.’ He’s another guy to factor in for Stanford.
Tennessee’s Dylan Jacobs
He hasn’t been himself. Maybe he could be? He won the NCAA Championships 10,000m and looked strong back in June. He’s going to be in the conversation. He hasn’t been quite that guy.
Alabama’s Victor Kiprop
Here’s a guy who hasn’t been talked about enough. He’s undefeated on the season with wins at the Joe Piane Invitational. Alabama Crimson Classic, SEC Championships (where he beat Jacobs) and South Regional. However, he did DNF last year at NCAAs. This is his chance at redemption.
Official predictions by The Wood Report
Women’s Team Race
3. Oklahoma State
2. New Mexico
1. NC State
Individual champion: Florida’s Parker Valby
Men’s Team Race
4. Oklahoma State
Individual champion: Alabama’s Victor Kiprop
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