The women of North Carolina State and the men of Northern Arizona University successfully defended their team titles at last Friday’s (19) NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla., the nation’s most competitive team running event. The Wolfpack, under head coach Laurie Henes, scored 114 points, a comfortable 26 ahead of second place New Mexico, and their top runner, Katelyn Tuohy, won the individual title.
The Lumberjacks, under coach Mike Smith, won their sixth title in the last seven years, but only just. Tied with Oklahoma State University with 83 points, NAU won on the tie-breaker –where the head-to-head finishes of the top-2 team’s five scoring runners are considered– 3-2. The individual title went to Stanford’s Charles Hicks, the first Stanford man to ever win an individual NCAA cross-country title.
TUOHY COMES FROM BEHIND
As expected, Florida’s Parker Valby went for the individual win right from the gun. Valby, who won both the SEC and South Region titles this season, powered away from the main field in just the first kilometer and built a 12-second lead by the 4 km mark of the 6 km race. Running with warming packs in her gloves –but no socks which left her feet numb in the sub-freezing temperatures– Valby was trying to build up the biggest lead she could on Tuohy who is known for her closing speed.
“I just wanted to go for it,” Valby told commentator John Anderson on the ESPNU broadcast. “I know I don’t have as good of a kick as Katelyn so that I knew I had to shoot my shot.”
Tuohy –the ACC and South Region champion who, like Valby, is undefeated this season– decided late in the fourth kilometer it was time to close the gap. She left the main group and chipped away at Valby’s lead.
“We talked about beforehand if she went out fast from the gun to stay back and kind of work with the pack to catch her,” Tuohy said in her post-race broadcast interview. “Once we went through about 3-K I was like, the gap’s a little bigger than I like. So I kind of made the surge to catch her.”
Just before the 5-K mark, Valby’s lead was down to six seconds. Tuohy kept digging, and with about 500 meters remaining in the race Tuohy caught Valby. The two sophomores remained together for just a second before Tuohy started to pull away. Tuohy didn’t really need that big kick after all, finishing in 19:27.7 to Valby’s 19:30.9.
“The goal was to catch her before the turn up the hill, and that’s right around where I caught her,” Tuohy explained. “Just tried to make my move on the hill then power on the downhill finish.”
The day would only get better for the Wolfpack. NC State junior Kelsey Chmiel finished third in 19:37.1, Samantha Bush was 15th in 19:57.6, Nevada Mareno was 29th in 20:07.5, and freshman Brooke Rauber was 90th (74th in the team scoring) in 20:33.3.
“We had a lot of people step up today,” Coach Henes told ESPNU. “You know, they were great up front.” She continued: “I haven’t got a chance to look at results, but Brooke Rauber came through big today. You know, they’ve really been working on running together. They tried to do that as best as possible today and it just worked out well.”
After New Mexico, the University of Alabama was third with 166 points, host school Oklahoma State fourth with 201, and North Carolina fifth with 242.
Interestingly, there wasn’t a single senior in the top-11; the first senior was Emily Venters of Utah in 12th.
HICKS BIDES HIS TIME
The men’s race, which was contested over 10 kilometers, saw an early three-man breakaway led by NAU sophomore Nico Young. Young, who finished 11th at these championships a year ago, had teammate Drew Bosley and Stanford’s Charles Hicks for company. The trio worked together throughout the hilly course and built up an 11-second lead through 5-K (14:16.6), and a 16-second lead through 8-K (23:00.6). Young did most of the leading and Hicks –the 2021 European Athletics cross country champion for Great Britain in the under-23 division– tried to stay relaxed and wait for the best time to strike.
“I did notice kind of in those back stretches that every time we kind of went up the hill I felt them fade back a little bit and myself surge up,” Hicks said. “I kind of started to realize that they might be expending a little bit more energy than would allow a fast last ‘K.'”
Through 8 km the three were still together, and not much had changed through 9 km. The main pack was still 15 seconds back, so Hicks, Bosley and Young could focus on racing each other. Hicks surged in the last kilometer and dropped Bosley, but Young was still hanging on. Hicks knew he had more in the tank and made one final move to drop the tiring Young.
“Went up on sort of the third hill and I just kind of wanted to run from the gun,” Hicks said. “In my mind, that’s always the best way to win it. You don’t want to have a single percent left over.”
Clocking 28:43.6, Hicks had a clear gap at the finish over Young (28:44.5) and Bosley (28:55.9). However, a dramatic mass sprint was forming behind them as athletes from both NAU and Oklahoma State were trying to gain every possible place to secure the team title. NAU had a huge advantage with Young and Bosley scoring just five points between them, but they would need their fourth and fifth men to also run well. That’s exactly what happened. Brodey Hasty finished 24th in the team scoring ahead of Oklahoma State’s fourth man, Victor Shitsama, who finished 29th. That sealed the win for NAU.
“We knew what we were going to do when we came out to the course today,” Young said, speaking for the team as they passed around their trophy. “We executed exactly that. Whatever place I was ended up being first today. I’m super-pumped about that.”
Oklahoma State finished in the top-2 for the first time since 2012. Third place went to Brigham Young University (132), fourth to Stanford (195) and fifth to Wake Forest (204).
The 2023 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be hosted by the University of Virginia at Panorama Farms in Earlysville (near Charlottesville).
PHOTO: Katelyn Tuohy of North Carolina State winning the 2022 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma (photo by Mike Scott; used with permission)
PHOTO: Charles Hicks of Stanford leads Nico Young (left) and Drew Bosley of Northern Arizona at the 2022 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma (photo by Mike Scott; used with permission)