Upon learning of NC State’s victory, defending champion Katelyn Tuohy rushed over to Head Coach Laurie Henes, and, overwhelmed with emotion, collapsed into her arms in tears.
Although Tuohy did not defend her individual title, her performance at the Nov. 18 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at Panorama Farms in Charlottesville, Virginia, might have been the most consequential race of her college career.
Constrained by illness, Tuohy led the Wolfpack to its third straight women’s team title, fighting with every last stride for her fifth-place finish. On the individual side, Tuohy’s greatest rival, Florida’s Parker Valby, ran away from the field, storming to a new NCAA record of 18:55.2 to claim the 6k national title in an apt conclusion to a dominant season.
NC State narrowly held off No. 1 Northern Arizona University (NAU) by just 1 point, recording 123 points (5, 18, 21, 31, 48) against NAU’s 124 (11, 13, 15, 41, 44). With the highest winning score since 2016, every point proved critical for the Wolfpack as NAU would have won the tiebreaker, which is determined by head-to-head matchups between each team’s top-five runners.
The odds were stacked against NC State heading into the Championships as its second runner, Kelsey Chmiel, was sidelined due to injury. Chmiel finished in third place last year and is one of the NCAA’s most consistent top runners as an 11-time All-American. With Tuohy feeling under the weather, the Wolfpack’s hopes for a three-peat looked bleak.
However, Tuohy still rose to the challenge. Although she had dropped to 11th at the 4k mark, her relentless determination kept her team in contention. The star closed in on the field to finish 5th in 19:23.0, exerting herself so much that she needed to visit the medical tent upon crossing the finish line.
“I can’t imagine a braver race for [Tuohy] to run,” Henes told Citius Mag after the race. “She’s extremely team-oriented and knew this probably wasn’t going to be her day individually – but she put herself in there and did everything she could for the team.”
With Tuohy far from her best, the rest of the Wolfpack needed to step up. Amaris Tyynismaa rose to the occasion. Tyynismaa, an Alabam transfer, had not finished a race for the Wolfpack this cross-country season, dropping out of the ACC and Southeast Regional Championships due to injury. However, she steadily worked her way up the field, moving from 53rd place at the 1k mark to finish in 25th. Samantha Bush echoed her teammate’s performance, steadily moving up from 96th to finish in 28th place.
Freshman Leah Stephens and redshirt freshman Grace Hartman rounded out the scoring for NC State in their first NCAA Championship meet. Stephens finished in 43rd place with a time of 20:08.2, only just fending off Leane Willemse of Wisconsin and Yasna Petrova of California Baptist by a few thousandths of a second, which could have been the difference in the Wolfpack’s win. Hartman held on to 63rd place, running a time of 20:24.4.
Although NAU was hungry for its first women’s program title after defeating NC State at the Nuttycombe Invite, the Lumberjacks did not have their best showing, unable to produce a top-10 individual finish. Elise Stearns, NAU’s usual top runner, who finished 4th at last year’s race, fell from 9th at the 2k mark to 20th place with an overall time of 19:52.2. Although Stearn’s teammates Gracelyn Larkin and Annika Reiss stepped up to finish in 13th and 15th place, NAU’s performance ultimately came up one point short of making history.
Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, and Florida rounded out the top five teams with 156, 237, and 268 points, respectively.
Individually, Valby started to assert herself at the 1k mark. Unlike last year, when Valby executed a similar race strategy but was caught by Tuohy’s relentless kick in the final kilometer, she built a lead that remained unthreatened for the entire race as she crossed the finish line over 10 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Valby’s performance was indicative of her phenomenal cross country season, setting course records at the Nuttycombe Invite, the SEC Championships, the NCAA South Regionals, and now the NCAA Championships.
Freshman Doris Lemngole of Alabama, who also finished second to Valby at the SEC Championships, crossed the finish line in second place — 10 seconds behind the Florida powerhouse. Notre Dame’s Olivia Markezich, the reigning NCAA 3000m Steeplechase Champion, rounded out the top three with a time of 19:10.0. Alabama’s Hilda Olemomoi, a sophomore, finished in fourth place, signaling a bright future for the Crimson Tide and the SEC.