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.
5. Taylor Werner, Senior, Arkansas
Werner first came into the NCAA as a standout from Missouri, placing 16th at NCAA Cross Country as a true freshman. She rode a wave of up-and-downs between then and now, finishing 104th and 81st at XC National Championships while also qualifying for a number of national meets on the track.
Last fall, Werner had one of her best cross country season’s to-date, finishing near the front of every race (except NCAA's) all culminating with a runner-up finish at the South Central Regional Championships. Her race at NCAA's came up a bit short as Werner was easily capable of an All-American finish and likely could have been near the front pack. Despite disappointment, Werner didn’t let that finish impact her as she moved into track season.
This past indoor and outdoor seasons, Werner made huge strides in her record on the track. During the indoor season she lowered her personal best in the 3000 by ten seconds, eclipsing the 9:00 barrier for the first time when she ran 8:56 at the Husky Classic. She won both the 3000 and 5000 events at the SEC Championships. Two weeks later she finished runner-up in the 3000 at NCAA's for her highest-ever showing at a national meet. She also ran as a member of Arkansas’ distance medley relay, boosting the team to a 5th place finish.
Outdoor started on a similar high note, with Werner opening the season with a personal best in the 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational, followed by personal bests in the 1500 (4:17) and 5000 (15:38). She claimed another SEC title in the 5000 and finished 4th in the 1500. At the West regional meet, Werner finished 4th in both the 5000m and 10,000 to move her through to Nationals.
Once she made it to Austin, Werner put on an absolute show. She opened up the meet with yet another 4th place run in the 10,000 meters to earn valuable points for the Razorbacks. Two days later, with Arkansas desperate for team points, Werner ran one of her best 5000 meters in recent memory to finish runner-up, improving five places on her seed-rank, and helping close out a NCAA team title for Arkansas.
Moving into this cross country season, the Arkansas women look like one of the contenders for a team title and Werner will be looked on to lead that charge. Despite two years of underwhelming finishes at NCAA's, Werner looks like a woman on a mission after her track campaign and should be in contention for the individual win this fall.
4. Ednah Kurgat, Senior, New Mexico
In 2017, Kurgat was unstoppable on the cross country course. Her sophomore campaign saw her go undefeated and win national titles individually and as a team. Since that year, she has been on a slight decline, still running very well, but not with the same dominance that was seen that season.
Last fall she was 5th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, but unlike 2017, she did not win a single race that season. Now in her senior year, she has only one chance to bounce back for a second national title during the fall.
Kurgat ran relatively well during the 2018 season, but spent much of it living in the shadow of her superstar teammate Weini Kelati. In 2017, Kurgat was able to win races by setting an uptempo pace and breaking other runners who simply could not hang on. Whether others have gotten faster or Kurgat has gotten slower, that strategy did not work last season and unlike many others, Kurgat does not have the closing speed to win meets in a fast finish.
On the track, Kurgat ran personal bests in the 1500, 5000, and 10,000 meters this past winter and spring, opening with a blazing 15:14 over 5000 meters at the BU Opener in December. She ultimately ran both the 3000 and 5000 at Indoor Nationals which ended in her earning 9th and 4th place finishes, respectively. Kurgat opened up her outdoor season with a personal best of 32:14 in the 10,000, running one of the fastest times in NCAA history. She opted to only run the 10k at NCAA's, but struggled a bit in the Austin heat, coming across the line for a 9th place finish.
Kurgat is a bit of a mystery going into this fall. In 2017, it seemed as though she would dominate the NCAA for the next couple of years, but in 2018 she looked like a completely different runner. Historically, she has not been as strong on the track, so her 9th place finish should not be of much concern heading into the fall. The biggest question is whether or not she can regain her form from 2017 or if she will continue to fade back into the pack. Her first few races should provide a good indication of what to expect from the Lobo this fall.
3. Erica Birk-Jarvis, Senior, BYU
Birk-Jarvis made her return to the NCAA in a dominant fashion in 2018-19. The BYU standout had been running well for the Cougars in 2016-17, but took all of the next year off from competition in order to focus on family. During that time, Birk-Jarvis became a mom and there was some speculation if she would return to running at the university in the future.
This year, Birk-Jarvis put any speculation to rest by having her best seasons in all three disciplines where she earned All-American honors in each. During the cross country season, Birk-Jarvis never finished lower than her 7th place run at NCAA's, coming away with three individual wins and a 3rd place run in a loaded Mountain regional field. Her performance at NCAA's was her highest ever finish at a national meet and helped the Cougars to a 7th place team finish.
In other words, she was consistently dominant.
Moving into indoors, Birk-Jarvis continued to improve, running personal bests in both the mile and 3000. She absolutely demolished her previous mark in the 3000, cutting 23 seconds off when she ran 9:00 at the Iowa State Classic. Her comeback tour continued at Indoor Nationals where she finished 5th in the 3000 and anchored BYU to a runner-up finish in the DMR.
Outdoors was much of the same. She ran personal bests in the 1500, 5000, and steeplechase, qualifying for NCAA's in the steeple. At the National Championships, she appeared to be closing the gap on Allie Ostrander, but her chase was slowed when she fell over one of the barriers. Birk-Jarvis ultimately finished 5th overall, but it looked like she would have easily nabbed the runner-up spot had it not been for the fall.
Moving into this cross country season, Birk-Jarvis will have a chance to continue building on her past year of training - something she did not have last year. She has shown the ability to finish fast when necessary, but also can hang with a hard pace from the gun. BYU comes into the season with podium aspirations and Birk-Jarvis will be the woman in charge of leading the Cougars. She will face strong competition from the likes of Alicia Monson and Weini Kelati, but it should not be a surprise to anyone if Birk-Jarvis is able to pull off a win this season.
2. Alicia Monson, Senior, Wisconsin
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Monson had essentially qualified for two NCAA meets. While she had previously run at the cross country national meet in 2016 and 2017, both qualifications were as a result of team performance rather than individual ones.
In other words, her performances last year were anything but expected.
Monson won four of the six meets she competed in this fall, including the BIG 10 Championships and the Nuttycombe Invitational. She arguably could have won the Pre-Nationals meet, but the Wisconsin women opted to run a “tempo” effort rather than truly race on that day. She finished the season with a 4th place finish at NCAA's on her home course, capping off an incredible breakout season for someone who had never finished in the top 10 of a major meet prior.
After the success of her cross country campaign, Monson was in no hurry to slow down. She opened up her indoor track season with a few low-key races before blasting an NCAA-leading 8:45 for 3000 meters. That mark is the third fastest performance in NCAA indoor history, only behind Jenny Simpson (formerly Barringer) and Karissa Schweizer.
Monson doubled down at BIG 10's to win the 3000 and 5000, a double she would run two weeks later at NCAA's. In that double, Monson opened the meet by shocking quite a few people when she took down Weini Kelati of New Mexico to win the national title in the 5000 meters. Monson struggled the next day in the 3000, ultimately finishing 10th, but the meet was a major success for the Badger who now had a national title to her name.
Outdoors was an interesting season for Monson. She only raced twice and neither time was anything up to the standard she set moving into the season. Her season ended at BIG 10's where she finished ninth overall in the 5000 meters, a performance that came as a surprise after the dominance she had shown during indoors. While there was no exact reason as to her lack of competition, there’s a decent chance Monson may have been hurt during outdoors which could explain why she raced so infrequently.
Monson will not be surprising anyone this fall. After her performances last year, everyone in the NCAA is very aware of how good she is and the type of threat she poses to the national title. There is some slight concern going into the fall with how her outdoor season went, but once Monson is able to race, that worry should quickly be put to rest.
1. Weini Kelati, Junior, New Mexico
Coming out of high school, Kelati was slated to be one of the best young talents in the NCAA...and she did not disappoint. In her freshman season, the New Mexico star finished 7th at the XC National Championships and earned All-American honors during indoor track in both the 3000 and 5000.
But as a sophomore? She only got better.
During 2018-19, Kelati never finished worse than 3rd in any collegiate event until the Outdoor National Championships for 5000 meters (where she was 5th). She finished either 1st or 2nd at every cross country meet last fall, losing to only Alicia Monson at Nuttycombe and Dani Jones at NCAA's. Jones will be gone in 2019 which means Kelati is the top returner and will be looking to earn her first national title on the grass.
On the track, Kelati looked absolutely phenomenal during 2019. She opened up her indoor season with a 15:15 in the 5000 meters which is the fifth fastest mark all-time in NCAA indoor history. She then cracked another all-time list by running 8:53 for 3000 at the Millrose Games, making her the tenth fastest collegiate for the distance. At Indoors Nationals, the national titles continued to elude her as she placed 3rd in the 3000 and runner-up in the 5000. While it appeared that she was on pace for her first national title, that would have to wait until the outdoor season.
Kelati opened her outdoor campaign in dominant fashion - running 15:23 for 5000 which would ultimately be the fastest collegiate time for the distance (outdoors) in 2019. She smashed the New Mexico school-record in the 10,000 at the Mountain West Championships by running 32:09 and after breezing through the West regional meet, Kelati was finally ready to get her first NCAA title.
At the National Championships, Kelati held on during the 10,000 meters to take the victory and claim her first NCAA title. Two days later, she finished 5th in the 5000 to earn her second All-American honors of the meet. Her outdoor season wasn’t quite over though as Kelati then ran the 3000 at the Prefontaine Classic where she posted a mark of 8:53 to match her personal best set during the indoor season.
Coming into this fall, Kelati is the one to beat. She is the top returner from NCAA XC in 2018 and is coming off of her best year of performances that saw her earn All-American honors in every national event. She was dominant last fall on the cross country course and with Dani Jones gone and Alicia Monson coming off of an underwhelming outdoor season, there is no one better set to win a national title than Kelati.