Updated: Jan 13
Additional contributions by Garrett Zatlin (5-3)
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. Kayla Wooten, Senior, UC-Colorado Springs
Wooten may be one of the most underrated talents in D2. While Skylyn Webb has gained a ton of attention for her electrifying performances at 800 meters, teammate Kayla Wooten has quietly built a strong resume of her own.
Wooten first broke out at the 2017 XC National Championships when she finished 27th overall to earn All-American honors. When you compared that performance to her regular season, it would have been easy to suggest that it was just a fluke race.
That, however, wasn't at all the case.
The then-junior entered the 2018 cross country season with something to prove. She won the only two meets of her regular season (Roy Griak Maroon race and the UCCS Rustbuster Invite) before holding her own at the RMAC Championships with a 10th place finish. After finishing 12th at the South Central Regional Championships, Wooten validated her 2017 performance with a monster 8th place finish at Nationals.
It is clear that Wooten has made a name for herself. Between the wins and massive improvements, the UCCS senior has quietly put herself in the title conversation if she continues to trend upwards at this pace. Still, even if she doesn't walk away with NCAA gold, Wooten will be a major threat for most of the top names in the nation later this fall.
4. Hanna Groeber, Senior, Grand Valley State
3. Allie Ludge, Senior, Grand Valley State
The GVSU women won their first team title last fall by simply overwhelming their competition with a multitude of All-American finishes. The barrage of talent included these two women - Hanna Groeber and Allie Ludge - who have turned out to be some of the most reliable low-sticks in the country.
Last fall was a dominant one for this Laker duo. At the Michigan State Spartan Invite, Ludge and Groeber kicked off their seasons with 12th and 17th place finishes, respectively. Against some top D1 competition, that was nothing to sneeze at. But GVSU wasn't done racing above their pay grade. Ludge finished 3rd at an ultra-stacked Loyola Lakefront Invie while Groeber didn't have the same success, settling for 36th place.
Fast forward to the postseason and not much had changed. Groeber and Ludge finished 3rd and 4th at the GLIAC Championships before going to the Midwest Regional Championships where they finished 4th (Ludge) and 11th (Groeber) overall.
However, it was their performance at the national meet that would truly validate them as distance running elites. The Laker tandem placed 5th and 6th at NCAA's, catapulting Grand Valley State into the lead - and eventually - the national title.
We could endlessly ramble about how great these two were on the track, but then this article would never end. The fact of the matter is that both Ludge and Groeber are some of the best distance runners in the country. They consistently show up, especially on the championship stage, and are part of a program that is known for producing top-tier talent.
They may be at #3 and #4 in our rankings for now, but that has the potential to be even better by the time November arrives.
2. Leah Hanle, Senior, Mount Olive
It is arguable that Hanle should be number one on this list, as she has been one of the most consistent runners in the country over the past three years.
The Mount Olive veteran will be looking to make her fourth straight NCAA Cross Country Championship this fall after finishing as an All-American in every one thus far (25th in 2016, 14th in 2017, and 7th in 2018). On the lead up to that 7th place finish last season, Hanle finished 8th or better in her first six races of the season, including a stellar 8th place finish in the Paul Short Gold race, and claiming victories at Pre-Nationals and the Southeast Regional Championships.
Hanle would go on to have the best track seasons of her collegiate tenure, as she would make Nationals for the third straight year in both indoor and outdoor track. She would take 3rd place finishes in both the 3k and 5k during indoors, while finishing 2nd in the 10k and 3rd in the 5k outdoors.
Hanle now has 12 (!!!) All-American finishes, but is still looking for her first NCAA title. After what we have seen from her, especially last year, it would not be surprising to see Hanle walk away from this season as the national champion.
1. Eilish Flanagan, Senior, Adams State
There have been a lot of Adams State athletes in our rankings, but the leader of all of them - and our favorite to stand atop all of D2 this season - is Eilish Flanagan.
Last cross country season, Flanagan did not finish worse than 4th place in any of her five races, including a monster 4th place finish at the Stanford Invitational, proving that she was just as good as some of the competition in D1. She capped off the season with a 3rd place finish at the South Central Regional Championships and then a runner-up finish at NCAA's.
Flanagan kept the runner-up finishes coming on the oval, as she finished 2nd in both the 3k and 5k at Indoor Nationals. During outdoors, she picked up two more runner-up finishes at NCAA's, this time in the 5k and steeplechase.
Flanagan has already been at three cross country national meets, three outdoor national meets and two indoor national meets, claiming a combined eight All-American trophies, but has yet to get her first individual gold. She will be looking to lead the Adams State squad to a win at Nationals later this fall while looking to validate what has been an absolutely legendary career so far for the Adams State ace.