The NCAA All-Merber Team: Cross Country Stars To Watch This Track Season

By Kyle Merber

November 29, 2023

It’s been over a week since the NCAA Cross Country Championships and now that the dust has begun to settle on our reaction to the winners, let’s look further down the descending order list.

Before the track season starts this weekend, I thought it’d be fun to pick out some individuals whose seasons I was impressed with, and put them on a watch list… I’m still workshopping the “All-Merber Team” moniker, but just to be clear, this section isn’t going to congratulate runners who finished 98thtwice… at NCAAs.

It’s a fun exercise for me to dig into the year’s results a bit and pick out who I’d guess are rising stars in the sport. Maybe my idea of fun is different than yours, but if even one of these 14 athletes has a breakout season then I will stand on top of a mountain and shout about my genius. And if the other 13 flop completely, you will NEVER hear about it!

What should you do with these expert analyst picks? If you’re in charge of a shoe company’s budget then I’d offer each of them a long-term contract with very little base pay, large bonuses, and no freedom to get out of it. And if you are not in control of any money, then hopefully you’re one of the runners getting a shoutout and will make any exclusive future pro contract announcements via this newsletter.

Texas Cross Country Texas Cross Country

Credit to Texas Athletics

The Guys That Kyle Is Watching Closely

Devin Hart (Texas) – Saying that you think the guy who finished 11th at NCAAs is going to have a good track season isn’t exactly the boldest pick. But Hart ran 13:29/28:07 at Stanford in the spring after finishing 51st in cross country and his grass running improved significantly in his first season since transferring to Texas. Extrapolate that trajectory out another seven months and I like where he is headed.

Ethan Strand (North Carolina) – Any time a 3:55 miler and ACC 1500m champion continues to improve over 10K then I think that strength might portend for his signature event. Strand was 45th at NCAAs and improved his cross-country finishes across the board this fall. And as much confidence I have in him, I have even more in Coach Miltenberg’s ability to patiently convert young talent into long successful careers.

Liam Murphy (Villanova) – This Wildcat has proven that in a tactical race he is capable of outkicking anyone in the NCAA. The next step is doing it in a fast race, too, and it looks like he’s now got the strength to match the closing speed – he jumped from 92nd in 2022 to 14th in Charlottesville.

Syracuse Cross Country - Perry MackinnonSyracuse Cross Country - Perry Mackinnon

Credit to Syracuse Athletics

Perry Mackinnon (Syracuse) – We like big jumps when considering prospects! The Canadian was 124th at NCAAs in 2022 while competing for Cornell and finished 19th last week. The impression that I get is that he’ll make a great marathoner one day, because Syracuse seems to churn out great marathoners. Also, the ability to immediately thrive in a slightly different part of Upstate NY seems promising.

Jason Bowers (East Tennessee St) – After winning a couple of NAIA titles last year, Bowers transferred into Division I and finished 22nd at NCAAs. Need I even say more? Originally from South Africa, he is ETSU’s first male cross country All-American since 1994.

Ben Rosa Ben Rosa

Credit to Harvard Athletics

Ben Rosa (Harvard) – The word on the street is that this guy crushes workouts with Graham Blanks and that’s some good company to keep. He went from 15th at Heps and 251st at NCAAs last year to 3rd and 47th. His 1:54 800m personal best doesn’t really scream “wheels,” but no doubt the dude is strong as hell after 11 straight weeks of 20+ mile long runs.

Ethan Coleman (Notre Dame) – Hot take: I think the kid who ran 8:49 for 3200m as a junior and was the New Balance Nationals 5000m champion will be good at running. Coleman was 48th at NCAAs in his RS freshman season and kept improving as the fall continued. That makes him the top American from the 2022 high school class.

The Ladies That Kyle Is Watching From A Respectful Distance

Chloe Scrimgeour (Georgetown) – 158th to 59th to 8th – yup, that’s prime “All-Merber Team” This Section material. Scrimgeour first earned an All-American certificate last spring in the 5000m and her rise to prominence has been super consistent. The next step is contending for wins and that will happen in the next 12 months.

Sydney Thorvaldson - Arkansas Cross Country Sydney Thorvaldson - Arkansas Cross Country

Credit to Arkansas Athletics

Sydney Thorvaldson (Arkansas) – From third at Nike Nationals in 2020 to 11th at the 2023 NCAA Championships, it took a few years for Sydney to find her groove in college. But if there is one thing worth betting on, it’s the talent and toughness of people from Wyoming. She stuck her nose in it early and was not afraid of leading the chase pack.

Rosina Machu (Gonzaga) – Sometimes you can just watch someone’s stride and get a gut feeling. Now a sophomore eligibility-wise, Machu finished 16th in her first NCAAs appearance. Prior to that, she won a few Idaho state championships in high school and – I’m always rooting for those with inspirational stories – spent a good portion of her childhood in refugee camps with her family staying safe from war in Ethiopia.

Carmen AlderCarmen Alder

Johnny Pace / @PacePhoto

Carmen Alder (BYU) – We must refuse to let one race put a damper on how we view an entire program. I would follow Coach Diljeet Taylor to the ends of the Earth, and there is an army of women who agree with me. Alder won Pre-Nationals and was the top Cougar at Regionals so she went out with intent, but faded to 246th. She could have dropped out, but did not, and that’s the type of grit that makes me a believer because there were so many places and excuses to walk off that course.

Jenny SchillingJenny Schilling

Johnny Pace / @PacePhoto

Jenny Schilling (UVA) – I knew I had stumbled upon a diamond in the rough for my top prospects list when even her roster page didn’t have any results or background information. While in her third year of school, this was Schilling’s first season of NCAA running. Last spring she won the Charlottesville 10 Miler in 57:33 and shortly after started working out with the team. She improved every single race, ultimately finishing 39th at nationals as an All-American in her first season as a walk-on.

Gabija Galvydyte (Oklahoma St) – The Cowgirls needed a big performance from their 800 meter star to get on the podium at nationals and she delivered, finishing in 48th, after moving up steadily the whole race from 192nd at the first kilometer. A former 400m hurdler from Lithuania, she ran 2:00.87 for 800 meters to finish 2nd at nationals last spring. The prediction here is not that she’ll have a good collegiate season – that’s expected. There is a bigger meet this summer that will showcase the value of a good fall base.

Kimberley MayKimberley May

Credit to Providence Athletics

Kimberly May (Providence) – There is more to the cross country season than NCAAs and that’s why I am still buying stock in this Kiwi. After finishing 2nd at Big East and Regionals, she went for it in Charlottesville but faded in the second half. Happens to the best of us! But the fitness grew and I am still fired up about her 4:11 anchor leg and who she had to beat to bring the Friars their first 4 × 1500 Penn Relays wheel since 1991.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.