First Impressions From The Start Of The 2023 NCAA Cross Country Season

By Owen Corbett

September 27, 2023

We are one month into the NCAA Cross Country season and starting to pick up steam after the first weekend of big meets. At our first checkpoint of the season, we identify the top teams and individuals who will be competing for titles, the early surprises both good and bad, and those we haven't gotten a glimpse of yet on the grass. Let the road to Charlottesville begin!


Team Title Favorites

Northern Arizona University: There are three teams that are seen as clearly above the rest of the country, but NAU would like you to believe that they are in a league of their own.

Even after losing two All-Americans from their National Championship-winning team last fall, they have looked dominant over the first month of the season, and Nico Young - last year’s runner-up at the national meet - hasn’t even run yet.

Drew Bosley has more than filled his shoes in the early going with two wins in his first two races, making him the early favorite to take home the individual title in November after falling off Charles Hicks and Young down the stretch of last year’s race.

Santiago Prosser - who exploded onto the scene in Stillwater last year, Theo Quax, and Kang Nyoak should round out a top five that should scare any other teams with championship hopes. And that’s not even including the potential that former high school phenom Colin Salhman puts it all together in his second year under Mike Smith and becomes a consistent scorer in Flagstaff. Salhman’s brother and fellow high school phenom, Aaron, has not made his debut yet.

Oklahoma State: After losing a top 10 runner from Nationals last year, as well as another All-American, Oklahoma State has reloaded and is looking for redemption after being beat out by a tiebreaker on their home course at the end of last season.

Newcomer Denis Kipngetich may be listed as a freshman but showed no inexperience with a dominating win at the Cowboy Jamboree last weekend. He beat the field by over 20 seconds, running a time just one second slower than Hicks ran at the same meet last season (h/t to Jonathan Gault of LetsRun). The Kenyan’s exact age is unknown but his World Athletics profile says he was born in 2001.

Even more of a mystery than Kipngetich is the man who finished one spot behind him on Saturday, Brian Musau (go look up his roster page on the Oklahoma State website, it's literally blank). With these two additions to a team including a top 5 finisher last year in Alex Maier, 2x NCAA indoor champion Fouad Messaoudi, and All American Victor Shitsama, the Cowboys are just as dangerous as last year.

BYU: Pegged by many as NAU’s biggest challenger in recent years, the Cougars finished 30 points behind last year’s champs at the Virginia Invitational over the weekend, and while the Lumberjack’s can claim they were without their full team, so can BYU.

Casey Clinger, who finished in the top 10 at Nationals last year has yet to make his season debut, which has given other runners a chance to shine – namely Joey Nokes. The Utah-native has been the Cougars top runner in both of their races so far, including an impressive fourth place at a loaded Virginia Invitational.

Even after losing two of their top five from last year, the ever deep BYU have shown no shortage of talent so far this season. Twins Garrett and Jacob Stanford have impressed after not being included on the nationals team last year, and another pair of twins, Creed and Davin Thompson return after both nabbing All-American honors last fall.

Teams to Watch:

UNC: After finishing tenth at NCAA’s last year, North Carolina is a program on the rise. They moved into the top five in the national rankings after their third place finish last weekend in Charlottesville

Parker Wolfe’s runner up finish to Bosely was impressive, but should not be a surprise after he finished in the top 10 at Nationals last year and top 5 in the 5000m outdoors. Wolfe may be in the running for a national title, something his new teammate Alex Phillip, one of the most accomplished runners in Division III history knows all about. With two low sticks and a really solid top four, UNC could have an eye on the podium come November

Villanova: The Wildcats had a disappointing showing last year in Stillwater when they finished in 19th place coming in as a fringe top ten team. This fall, all signs point to redemption in Charlottesville. With a fifth place finish at the Virginia Invitational, they moved up five spots in the coaches poll to number seven in the country.

Villanova has a top three that can hang with anyone in the nation made up of two local New Jersey boys and an Aussie coming from about as far away as you can get. Marco Langon won Villanova’s first race of the year, Liam Murphy could be their top finisher at Nationals again this year (and won’t place as low as 92nd this time around), and Haftu Strintzos brings experience and a fire to improve upon his own disappointment last November.

Early Struggles

Stanford: The Cardinal have dropped nine spots to No. 13 in the country after their ninth place finish in Virginia last weekend. It’s not what they want to hear, but they may have missed their best chance to break their national title drought with an underwhelming performance to close out the season last year.

Hicks may be gone, but Ky Robinson is still great. The reigning 5000m and 10,000m champion on the track finished third in Charlottesville, but may not be able to carry the team all by himself. Cole Sprout, whose 118th place finish last year at Nationals snowballed into missing the national meet on the track, dropped 33 spots in the last kilometer of his race over the weekend and ended up outside the Top 60.

Additionally Stanford seems to already regret losing Devin Hart in the transfer portal after he finished third in the Cowboy Jamboree last weekend and has his new school, Texas, higher in the rankings than the Cardinal.

On the good news side for Stanford, high school stars Leo and Lex Young had promising results in their collegiate debuts.

Oregon: If you just look at the fact that the Ducks dropped 11 spots in the national rankings this past week, it may sound some alarms, but here’s why it shouldn’t.

First of all, the team was probably overhyped to start the season after they lost Aaron Bienenfeld, their only top 90 finisher from Nationals last year, to graduation. Coach Jerry Schumacher’s squad is a very young team and is already showing a lot of promise. Freshman Simeon Birnbaum and sophomore Josh Edwards both looked extremely impressive while running unattached at the Dellinger Invitational this weekend, finishing third and fourth respectively.

And ahead of them was junior Quincy Norman who seems poised for a breakout year. Looking further down the results, Notre Dame transfer Izaiah Steury, redshirt freshman Rheindhart Harrsion, and true freshmen Tayson Echohawk and Connor Burns will all improve throughout the year. Throw in Elliott Cook, an NCAA finalist in the mile indoors last year, and you have a team that could be dangerous in November.

Side-note: The team that beat Oregon on its home course, Cal Poly, looks very impressive in its second year under coach Ryan Vanhoy. The Mustangs are nationally ranked and boast LSU grad transfer Davis Bove who took home the win over the weekend, and Aidan McCarthy, an NCAA finalist in the 800m outdoors last June.

Best Freshmen/Newcomers

Simeon Birnbaum looked great running 23:44 for a third place finish on his home course over the weekend, but the true freshman performance that blew me away was Wake Forest’s Rocky Hansen running 23:30 for fifth place in a loaded Virginia Invitational field. The Demon Deacons may have a star on their hands and will look to be a contender in the years to come.

Kipngetich and Masau looked dangerous in their NCAA debuts for Oklahoma State, but this year’s best international newcomers may reside in Albuquerque. New Mexico’s trio of Habtom Samuel, Lukas Kiprop, and Evans Kiplagat were utterly dominant at the Roy Griak Invitational (Note: We just learned that Jonathan Carmin - presumptive No. 4 guy - was battling sickness but was holding Top 10-15 at Griak before retiring from the race 5K in). Samuel is the most impressive of the Lobos, and should be mentioned in early conversations for the individual title come November. The Eritrean born 19 year old is a 2x World U20 medalist and finished 17th at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst back in February - ahead of Ky Robinson. His PRs of 13:17 in the 5000m and 27:20 in the 10,000m show that he won’t be easy to shake no matter what pace a race is run at.

If you need even more convincing, his time from this weekend bested what Conner Mantz and Wesley Kiptoo ran on the same course in 2021 by more than 15 seconds (h/t Jonathan Gault of LetsRun). Unfortunately for New Mexico, they are in the frustrating position of having three absolute studs yet being unranked as a team due to lack of depth behind their top runners.

Who hasn’t run yet?

Aside from the number of top runners mentioned above who have yet to open their seasons, we are waiting on a few more All Americans’ 2023 debuts. Harvard’s star duo of Graham Blanks (6th at Nationals last year) and Acer Iverson have yet to run, as have 4th ranked Wisconsin’s top men - Jackson Sharp, Bob Liking, and Adam Spencer. Additionally we haven't seen Notre Dame’s Carter Solomon or Arkansas’s Patrick Kiprop.

With just two more short weeks before another big weekend of racing - Nuttycombe Invitational (Oct 13), Pre Nationals (Oct 14) - we should be seeing all of the big names take to the grass sooner rather than later.



NC State: We are currently in the middle of two NCAA cross country dynasties, and while it may not be six titles in seven years, the NC State Wolfpack are going for their third title in a row on the women’s side.

All seven runners that lined up for them at the national meet last year are back on the roster, including individual champion Katelyn Tuohy, who some thought would go pro after the track season. To that group they have added one of the best transfers in the country, Amaris Tyynismaa who finished in the Top 10 at NCAAs last fall, and a stellar recruiting class.

That incoming class has produced the Wolfpack’s most notable results in the early season, with Leah Stephens, Angelina Napoleon, and Jolena Quarzo going 1-2-3 in the Adidas XC Challenge on their home course two weeks ago. The trio all ran unattached however so it is unknown if they’ll be expected to contribute come November.

Northern Arizona University: As if the dominance of their male counterparts wasn’t enough, the NAU women are a program on the rise, and right now they represent the biggest challenge to the Wolfpack’s three-peat. Veterans Elise Stearns and Annika Reiss have led the program’s ascent and continued to do so during the Lumberjack’s dominance of the biggest meet so far this year, both placing top ten at the Virginia Invitational.

Also in the top 10 was New Mexico transfer Gracelyn Larkin, one of three new additions to the team from last year’s national runner-up. Australian freshman Keira Moore (14th at VI) is another new face in Flagstaff, but a familiar name as she joins her sister Nikita.

The most impressive part about their 48-point outing over the weekend however might be who didn’t race, including San Francisco transfer Ruby Smee who won her first race in an NAU kit on their home course earlier in the month.

If both Lumberjack teams repeat their winning performances in Charlottesville later this fall, they would become the first program to win the men’s and women’s titles in the same year since Colorado in 2004.

Teams/Individuals to Watch:

Stanford: The Cardinal were a very young team last year that added a great class of incoming freshmen. The team might be developing earlier than expected however as they moved up four spots in the national rankings to No. 5 in the country after their runner-up finish at the Virginia Invitational. The most impressive result came from Australian freshman Amy Bunnage, the only underclassman to finish in the top ten. Alongside two impressive races so far from Sophia Kennedy, and the potential of Irene Riggs (Gatorade Cross Country National Player of the Year/US U20 Cross Country Champion), the freshmen may be the backbone of this team. Stanford’s more experienced runners helped place four women in the Top 25. Plus: The Cardinal’s lone All-American last year, Zofia Dudek, ran well and finished sixth on the team, a nod to the squad’s depth.

Margot Appleton: The UVA veteran’s third place finish came on her home course, where she will get to race a number of big meets this year, and led the Cavaliers to a third place finish as a team that moved them up four spots to #7 in the country. The junior will look to improve upon her 55th place finish in Stillwater last year coming off an impressive track season where she finished 3rd in the 1500m at Nationals.

Greta Karinauskaite: The NCAA runner-up in the 3000m steeplechase last June opened her season with a win, and might close it some 200 places higher than she finished at Nationals last year (214th in Stillwater). Alongside Karinauskaite, Cal Baptist placed two other women in the top ten over the weekend. Yasna Petrova was the team’s top finisher at the national meet last year and was a finalist on the track in the 5000m, and Emilia Mikszuta, won the Mustang’s first race of the season. CBU’s team win moved them up nine spots and they are now knocking on the door of being a top ten team in the country (No. 13).

Teams Still Adjusting

New Mexico: Last year’s national runner-up faces a whirlwind summer with a number of women transferring out of the program. As mentioned above, Gracelyn Larkin left for NAU bringing Aliandrea Upshaw, and Maisie Grice with her. Additionally, the Lobos top finisher at Nationals last year Amelia Mazza-Downie is teaming up with Parker Valby at Florida and Elise Thorner is joining her. As a result the New Mexico women have fallen outside the top 20 in the rankings, a drastic change that may become the new norm in the transfer portal era.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide finished one spot behind New Mexico last November and were hit by a similar flurry of departures over the offseason. While former NCAA Champion Mercy Chelangat graduated, All-Americans Flomena Asekol (Florida) and Amaris Tyynismaa left via the transfer portal. The one bright spot in Tuscaloosa is that they return their star freshman from last year Hilda Olemomoi who finished sixth at Nationals last fall, although she has yet to debut this season for the No. 22 ranked Tide.

Who hasn’t run yet?

The Florida super-team that was assembled over the offseason has yet to run their best athletes, and the No. 4 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish haven’t done so either against top competition.

One spot above the Irish in the rankings is Oklahoma State, and their star Taylor Roe has yet to race, but with their impressive freshman from last year - Billah Jepkirui - taking home the win at the Cowboy Jamboree on their home course, it should soften the blow of Natalie Cook transferring to Colorado, for a team with podium hopes again at the end of the season.

Owen Corbett

Huge sports fan turned massive track nerd. Statistics major looking to work in sports research. University of Connecticut club runner (faster than Chris Chavez but slower than Kyle Merber).