This is the second story by Oliver Hinson for RunBlogRun. Oliver is a student at American University. Oliver describes himself as an “avid track and field fan and a serious runner who wants to tell the true, underappreciated stories, and someday, hopes to write a book”. 

He faced many obstacles in getting these two stories complete 

We first discussed the assignment after the closing of media credentials. 

Oliver bought a ticket to the NCAA XC Champs and did a series of interviews, covering the event and providing us with photos as well. We hope that you like Oliver’s story and his ability to get us on the course and feel the race, getting around five thousand moving, cheering fans, coaches, media, and athletes. What a day! 

Oliver did both stories for RunBlogRun on the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Now, I have to find something challenging for him. 

Valby takes the throne, NC State three-peats at NCAA XC Championships
By: Oliver Hinson

“It’s all about the shoes… the pink shoes,” the announcer called as Parker Valby charged up the hill to the finish, referring to the pink Nike ZoomX Dragonfly spikes that have carried the Florida junior to several impressive finishes in her time as a Gator.

Fans at Panorama Farms, photo by Oliver Hinson

He didn’t even have to call her by name, likely because she had put 50 meters on the field. Valby dominated the race, winning in a time of 18:55. She led from the 1k mark and never let up, holding at least an eight-second lead at every kilometer marking from 2k onwards.

Parker Valby takes NCAA Women’s XC title, photo by James B. Daves.

“It’s a matter of experience and trusting yourself and your coach and your confidence,” Valby said in a post-race press conference. “I had no idea [where other runners were]… I just said to myself, ‘No looking back.’ Once you go for it, you go for it.”

Alabama teammates Doris Lemngole and Hilda Olemomoi finished second and fourth, respectively, while Notre Dame senior Olivia Markezich finished third.

Olivia Markovich finished third in the NCAA Div I XC, photo by James B Daves

Meanwhile, Katelyn Tuohy, who was expected by many to defend her title from 2022, fell to fifth place after dealing with illness leading up to the race. Despite failing to contend for the win, though, she enjoyed what was undoubtedly one of the best days of her running career as she led the NC State Wolfpack to a thrilling one-point win over Northern Arizona.

Parker Valby takes the NCAA Women’s XC title, photo by James B. Daves.

In addition to Tuohy’s illness, the Wolfpack had to deal with the loss of Kelsey Chmiel, who finished third at last year’s championship but was spotted on crutches Friday and confirmed out for Saturday’s race.

“We had a lot of adversity in this last week,” head coach Laurie Henes said. “Losing Kelsey this week was super hard on the team, but they all really, really stepped up. [The veterans]… got it done, and they helped the freshman figure out how to do it as well.”

One such freshman, Grace Hartman, was the team’s fifth, and her performance was crucial in securing the win. At the 1k mark, she sat in 101st place, but she climbed through the ranks as the race went on, eventually finishing 63rd in a time of 20:24.

Katelyn Tuohy, 5th place, photo by James B. Daves

“It wasn’t necessarily expected [for us to win], but we never gave up hope,” Hartman said. “I never knew if I would be in this situation… the feeling is unmatched.”

Hartman said that Henes told her (or yelled at her, rather) during the race that they were in the lead, but she thought it had been a lie to motivate them. It wasn’t; they had been leading since the 3k mark. When the final tally was displayed on the big screen, the crowd at Panorama Farms let out a massive cheer, and soon after, chants of “Wolf. Pack!” could be heard all over. Hartman couldn’t dispute it at that point.

The feeling was a bit different, though, for Northern Arizona, who came into the race ranked first in the nation. With NC State’s win and Oklahoma State’s domination on the men’s side, the Lumberjacks left a little light on hardware. Still, head coach Mike Smith was enthusiastic about his team’s performances.

“We’ve got a lot to process here,” Smith said after the race in an interview posted by Letsrun. “This is just the beginning for [the women’s team]. They’re leaving disappointed [after finishing] second place by a point. It shows how far this program has come.”

Now, the question is: who has the best shot at the title next year? The Wolfpack have a strong group of freshmen, but some suspect Tuohy will turn pro soon. As for NAU, their top two today, Gracelyn Larkin and Annika Reiss, are both seniors, but four of their next five are juniors. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, took third place today, and they have a trio of dominant sophomores – Billah Jepkirui, Cayden Dawson, and Payton Hinkle – that could make the Cowboys a dynasty on both sides next year.

As we learned from this year, though, most predictions are worthless until someone crosses the finish line. The only thing we can say about next year’s championships with confidence is that the crowd will bring major energy – and no matter who wins, it’s going to be a show.

To see the complete results, just click here.