Updated: Jan 13
Note: Keep in mind that what our writers value for the women's rankings varies from the criteria that we use to rank the men.
10. Sage Hurta, Rs. Senior, Colorado
Since her freshman season, Sage Hurta has been constantly climbing the ranks of the NCAA. Coming to Colorado from New York, the middle-distance standout grabbed the last All-American spot as a true freshman and has only improved since then. Hurta jumped up to 35th at the cross country national meet in 2017 and made an even bigger leap last fall when she finished 22nd at NCAA's to help Colorado win the team title. With Dani Jones and Makena Morley out of cross country eligibility, it will be on the shoulders of Hurta to lead Colorado as they look to defend their team title.
On paper, Hurta does not come off as someone ranked in the top 10 for cross country. She only raced three times during the cross country season in 2018 and one of those three races was a 28th place finish at the PAC-12 Championships. She redshirted both indoor and outdoor track, competing unattached and primarily racing the 800 meters.
However, when she did toe the line, she lit the track on fire.
During her outdoor season, Hurta set an unofficial school record in the 800 meters at the Music City Distance Classic where she ran 2:00.99 for the distance. While the 800 doesn’t necessarily correlate to the cross country course, Hurta appears to be training well and building fitness for the fall.
Hurta is one of the most consistent athletes when it comes to cross country. The redshirt senior has never finished outside of the top 40 in any meet and has only finished outside the top 30 once (not including NCAA's). On the track it’s the same story. For NCAA eligible 800 meter times, Hurta’s marks have always been between 2:04 and 2:08, and in the mile they have ranged from 4:38 to 4:49. To keep her performances in a small range provides great reliability and consistency for a team that will need a strong front-runner if they are hoping to make another push at NCAA's.
The one knock on Hurta going into this fall is that she has primarily been a middle-distance runner which could put her at a disadvantage against her distance-oriented competitors. On the track, she typically races from the 800 to the steeplechase, having only run one 5000 meter in her three years at CU. Emphasizing middle-distance isn’t necessarily going to hurt her, but it is something to consider when thinking about traditional distance stars.
It should be noted that many middle-distance women tend to do better than their male counterparts given the women’s distance is substantially shorter. Jessica Hull, Elise Cranny, Dani Jones - are all women who tended to focus on the 1500 meter distance but found great success on the grass.
Of course, this isn't to suggest that Hurta hasn't already been successful on the grass and dirt. Three All-American finishes at the cross country national meet is nothing to scoff at. In 2019, she will attempt to go four for four, something that only a handful of women have ever done.
9. Dorcas Wasike, Senior, Louisville
Despite a less than ideal track season, Wasike breaks into our Top 10 heading into 2019 after a phenomenal 2018 cross country season which saw her claim five individual wins and her second All-American honor on the grass. She bested her 29th place showing at Nationals in 2017 by coming across the line in 14th last fall, and comes into 2019 as one of the top returners in the country. The only two races Wasike did not win in 2018 were Pre-Nationals (3rd) and the NCAA Championships. Will this be her year to come home with a title?
Wasike has never won an event at an NCAA National Championship despite countless appearances. In 2018, she came agonizingly close to the win in the 10,000 meters, finishing runner-up to Sharon Lokedi of Kansas. Last fall, she took down some of the best runners in the country, besting Anna Rohrer and Elly Henes at the ACC Championships and a handful of others at the Southeast regional meet. Her 14th place finish at NCAA's was an improvement from 2017, but realistically Wasike was a Top 10 talent in cross country. After the season ended, she was quick to get back to racing, smashing her indoor 5000 meter personal best by over a minute when she ran 15:25 at the BU Opener.
Unfortunately for Wasike, that momentum was lost as track rolled on. She finished a solid indoor campaign with a win in the ACC 3000 meters and a 9th place finish in the 5000 meters at NCAAs, but by the time outdoor rolled around Wasike had hit a wall.
She seemed on track for another solid season after winning the 10k at Raleigh Relays, but DNF’d the event at the ACC Championships and did not return to the track. Given that she was ranked 11th in the East region, it seems she likely developed some sort of injury complication to suddenly call her season short - an unfortunate ending for the 2018 runner-up.
While her absence on the track shouldn’t be a reason to count her out of cross country, it should be a consideration when looking ahead. Wasike has the talent and grit to be a top five finisher at NCAA's this season and could be in the mix for the title on the right day. Assuming whatever plagued her during outdoor track is gone and she’s healthy, watch out for Wasike over the next few months.
8. Elly Henes, Senior, NC State
North Carolina State has potential to make the NCAA podium this fall and leading the Wolfpack will be senior Elly Henes. Henes has been making big strides since her freshman season when she finished 159th at NCAA's, improving to 32nd as a sophomore and 16th as a junior. Her 2018-19 seasons were easily the best she has ever had in her career and the upward trend has created high expectations for this fall.
Throughout last fall, Henes steadily improved each time she raced. She finished 23rd at Nuttycombe to open the season, followed by a 9th place showing at Pre-Nationals and runner-up finishes at both the ACC and the Southeast Regional Championships. Only seven women from the NCAA Championships that bested Henes are returning in 2019, giving her an excellent chance to improve on 2018.
After a phenomenal cross country season, Henes quickly got back to setting personal bests - this time on the track. During her indoor season she ran personal bests in the mile (4:38), 3000 (9:06), and 5000 (15:41). She qualified for NCAA's in the 5000 and 3000, placing 14th and 15th, respectively. Although her performance at NCAA's wasn’t quite up to par with the rest of her season, the overall result was three personal bests and plenty of momentum looking ahead.
Henes opted to redshirt her outdoor season, but still continued to compete on the track. She continued to put down fast times, clocking a 4:14 for 1500 meters at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville to improve on her old PR by four seconds. Most recently, she competed at the Adrian Martinez Classic where she once again bettered her 5k time, clocking in at 15:31 to drop a total of 18 seconds in the event for 2019.
Based on her outdoor season, Henes appears to be well on her way towards major improvements this fall. She has clearly picked up plenty of momentum and has shown that she can consistently be a legitimate postseason threat.
7. Fiona O’Keeffe, Senior, Stanford
Despite fantastic performances, O’Keeffe seems to fly under the radar whenever national title conversations happen. The Stanford senior is coming off of a strong junior year which saw her earn All-American honors in all three disciplines (XC, indoor, outdoor) which started with a 17th place finish at the Cross Country National Championships.
O’Keeffe has been an All-American in cross country all three years she has competed and looks ready to break into the top 10 this fall. Outside of NCAA's, she never finished worse than 5th place in 2018, which includes 5th place finishes at both the PAC-12 Championships and the West Regional Championships. Coming into 2019, O’Keeffe will be looked upon by her Stanford teammates to lead a team with podium aspirations now that Elise Cranny has turned professional.
After a strong cross country season, O’Keeffe continued to set personal bests as she moved into indoors. She bested her previous marks in the mile, 3000, and 5000 meters by ending the season with a a huge 3rd place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships. During outdoors, she once again lowered her 5000 meter personal best to 15:31 at the West regional meet to move through to NCAA's. At the national meet, O'Keeffe finished 7th in the event, her second-best showing ever at an NCAA outdoor national meet.
One of the biggest questions surrounding O’Keeffe (and her Stanford teammates) is how she will adjust to the loss of coaches Chris Miltenberg of Elizabeth DeBole. The departures come late in O'Keeffe's career which could be a big adjustment in her senior season as a Cardinal. If O’Keeffe is able to carry on performing like she has been, she could quietly sneak into the national title conversation.
In some respects it seems like a stretch to consider her for the title given her best XC national meet finish is a 13th place finish from 2017, but she’s also finished 3rd in the 5000 during indoors (2019) and 5th during outdoors (2016) as only a true freshman.
The raw talent, and now overwhelming experience, is there for O'Keeffe. She has the resume to make some noise and in 2019, we fully expect that to happen.
6. Anna Rohrer, Rs. Senior, Notre Dame
Another ACC name to add into the Top 10 is Anna Rohrer who has been chasing a national title in cross country since she was a freshman. She has finished in the top 10 at the national meet in all three years, coming as close as 3rd as a sophomore. Despite making every National Championship since her freshman season, Rohrer has yet to win an NCAA title in any event. Will this be her year to finally break through?
Rohrer is incredibly consistent in cross country. She finished 6th at NCAA's as a true freshman, followed by a 3rd place showing as a sophomore. Last fall may have actually been her “worst” season to-date, placing 10th at NCAA's after seeing a minor fall off all season.
Throughout 2018, Rohrer had been looking good, but not on the level of previous years. She was "only" 17th at the Pre-Nationals last fall and was bested by Dorcas Wasike for the ACC title. While she led the NCAA Championships at times, she ultimately faded back to 10th.
Regardless, Anna Rohrer is an established superstar who is arguably just as talented as anyone in our Top 50 (and I truly mean anyone). For someone who has battled injuries throughout her entire career, she has done incredibly well in what has been such a competitive era for collegiate women's distance running.
Rohrer came into the NCAA as a high school star and dazzled fans for her first few years at Notre Dame. Running alongside NCAA champion Molly Seidel, Rohrer was able to deflect some of the spotlight as she racked up All-American honors. Now the attention will be on her to lead the Irish to another national meet while attempting to secure that coveted NCAA gold...