As mentioned in our rankings rubric article, we are aware that certain conferences and universities will not be competing this fall due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, for the sake of content, we have constructed these rankings as if a regular cross country season will happen.
30. Adva Cohen, Senior, New Mexico
A late start to the 2019 cross country season left New Mexico’s Adva Cohen on the outside of the top 40 at last year's National Championships. Even so, her resume speaks for itself. Cohen is All-American material on the cross country course, she just needs to piece it altogether on the right day.
Cohen came extremely close to the top 40 at the National Championships in 2018, finishing 43rd overall after transferring from Iowa Central Community College. She later found major success on the outdoor oval in the steeplechase, finishing 4th at the Outdoor National Championships.
The summer of 2019 saw Cohen compete in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships in late September. Training for the steeplechase and cross country are two very different monsters, ultimately leading to a delayed cross country debut and a string of not-so-great performances. She placed 33rd at the Mountain West Championships, 15th at the Mountain Regional Championships and then 55th at the 2019 national meet in Terre Haute.
On paper, Cohen didn't appear to be a Top 50 talent. However, an extended block of training and racing throughout last summer likely explains the underwhelming performances.
More so, Cohen's performances on the track indicate that she is easily a Top 50 talent. She owns an outstanding 5k personal best of 15:31 as well as a personal best of 9:08 for 3000 meters. It would be unfair to not consider her summer racing commitments last year and how that impacted her results during the fall of 2019.
More is definitely in store for Cohen whenever she next toes the line. She has proven that she is a national-class runner who is an All-American candidate on the right day. Now, she just needs to put together when it counts.
29. Hannah Nuttall, Rs. Senior, New Mexico
Yet another Lobo star, Hannah Nuttall was a reliable scorer for the New Mexico women last fall, fluctuating between the number three and number four spots on the team. She may not have put up top finishes early in the season, but it was the championship portion of the 2019 cross country season that caught our eye.
Nuttall began her 2019 season at the Joe Piane Invititational, placing a slightly underwhelming 48th place overall in what was admittedly a very deep field. However, Nuttycombe wasn't much better as the New Mexico veteran finished 77th overall. Those two finishes were a far cry from a Preseason XC Top 50 ranking, but the rest of her season was a very different story.
The Mountain West Championships was a cold and snowy meet, yet the runner from Albuquerque persevered and finished an outstanding 5th place overall, finishing behind four women -- one who would go on to become the national champion, and three others who would eventually be named as All-Americans.
After New Mexico cruised through the regional meet, they landed in Terre Haute, Indiana for the National Championships. Cold and sloppy weather must have been one of Nuttall’s ideal race conditions as she had a breakout performance, placing 35th overall and securing All-American honors.
Armed with a 3k personal best of 9:08, extensive championship experience, a team with a major history of success and an All-American honor, it's hard to dislike what Nuttall brings to the table in terms of value.
While the start of her 2019 cross country may not have been ideal, she peaked perfectly for the championship portion of her season -- an aspect of her resume that should not be overlooked.
28. Mercy Chelangat, Junior, Alabama
Many might be wondering who Mercy Chelangat is and how someone who didn’t even qualify for the cross country national meet last fall would find themselves in the top 30 of our rankings heading into the 2020 season.
But after doing some research (i.e. reading the remainder of this write-up), he or she would see the rationale that goes into this selection.
Chelangat transferred to Alabama at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year after originally spending time at University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley. As a freshman in 2018, Chelangat picked up All-Region honors with a 22nd place finish at the South Central Regional Championships. One year later at the very same meet, Chelangat turned in a 9th place finish, barely missing an individual qualification to the national meet.
Truthfully, her 2019 cross country season was average from a Top 50 standpoint. She secured a 35th place finish at Joe Piane, a 37th place finish at Pre-Nationals, and a 10th place finish at SEC’s led up to the regional meet. That, however, was just the start of her finding her groove.
On the track is where Chelangat found major success, especially in the 5000 meters. At the UW Husky Classic, the Alabama runner threw down an outstanding personal best of 15:37, a time that placed her at NCAA #8 on the 2020 descending order list for the 5000 meters according to TFRRS.
With a time like that, Chelangat was on her way to the indoor national meet before COVID-19 put the world on pause.
Based on barely missing qualifying for the cross country national meet last year and running a superb indoor 5k, Chelangat jumps into our top 30 with relative ease. She will have a great training and racing partner in Esther Gitahi and the two women can be star low-sticks capable of leading Alabama to major success (whenever that may be).
Who knows? Maybe Chelangat and Gitahi can replicate the performances that we've seen from the Alabama men as of late. Only time will tell...
27. Bella Williams, Senior, Utah
Bella Williams, a key member from Utah’s spectacular 2019 cross country season, comes in just one spot behind teammate Poppy Tank (although it feels like the two are interchangeable).
Williams led the Utah women to a major six-point upset victory over the Colorado women at Notre Dame’s Joe Piane Invitational last fall. Williams was the lead runner for her team, securing a very impressive 11th place finish overall. This victory not only catapulted Williams into our rankings, but it did the same for the Utah women as a whole.
Two weeks later at Wisconsin’s Nuttycombe Invite, Williams turned heads again with her 24th place finish, taking down several women who would go on to be All-Americans. The Ute was enjoying a breakout season and it was coming together at the right time when she placed 7th at PAC-12’s to further solidify her place amongst the NCAA's best distance runners.
After navigating through the Mountain Regional Championships, Williams and her Ute teammates ventured to Terre Haute for the national meet. The extremely sloppy weather made it difficult for some women to find their groove and Williams was one of those ladies who fell victim to the mud, wind, and cold, eventually dropping back to 107th place overall.
Despite a not-so-great performance at the national meet, all evidence points to Williams not only being an All-American talent, but also one of the best distance runners in the country. She was consistently challenged with top-tier competition throughout last fall and almost always emerged as a top finisher, no matter how deep or top-heavy the field was.
In a world without a pandemic, she is one of the top low-sticks in the nation.
26. Poppy Tank, Rs. Senior, Utah
Utah’s Poppy Tank was a consistent top talent throughout the 2019 cross country season and was always trending in the right direction. The Utes were making a name for themselves last year on the grass and a major reason behind their success was the return of their low-stick Poppy Tank who had redshirted the fall of 2018.
There aren't many women who have shown the progression that Tank has throughout her college career. In 2016, Tank finished 48th at Joe Piane. In 2017, Tank finished 30th at Joe Piane. In 2019, Tank finished 16th at Joe Piane.
But Joe Piane wasn't the only meet where the UK native showed improvement. She finished 23rd at Nuttycombe last fall (just ahead of teammate Bella Williams) and posted a remarkable 6th place finish at the PAC-12 Championships, putting herself among the better names of an elite, top-heavy field.
After a solid 12th place result at the Mountain regional meet, Tank had a relatively quiet performance at the National Championships, placing 74th overall on a muddy Terre Haute course. It was a result that was far better than what she has shown us in 2016 (when she placed 110th overall), but it's clear that Tank was an All-American talent last fall.
Tank did not compete during the indoor track season due to competing at the SPAR European Cross Country Championship for Great Britain. She placed 18th in the U23 age group and that concluded a very solid season for the Utah veteran.
The 2020 cross country isn't going to be happening for the PAC-12 runner, but she was certainly going to be a top name to watch this fall if we had a season. She is 10k national qualifier on the track and is easily one of the most experienced distance runners in the country.
She was an easily selection to make the top 30 portion of our rankings this year.
25. Mahala Norris, Rs. Junior, Air Force
One of the more pleasant surprises throughout last fall was seeing the Air Force women emerge as one of the top distance programs in the nation, even in a Mountain West Conference that is traditionally headlined by New Mexico and Boise State.
Norris was a major reason behind that breakout season for the Falcons.
After an early-season rust-buster, Norris' first true challenge of the 2019 season came at the Bill Dellinger Invite where she finished 17th overall. It was a solid result, but from that point forward, Norris started to find some momentum.
In an extremely talented Nuttycombe field, Norris finished a solid 22nd place overall and led the Falcons to an 8th place team finish that day. Riding that high, she traveled to the Mountain West Championships and greatly improved upon her 26th place finish in 2017 with a shiny 4th place finish next to her name. She finished behind only Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat and teammate Maria Mettler.
After a respectable 10th place finish at the Mountain regional meet, Norris left Terre Haute eight days later with a 39th place finish and All-American honors, validating her newfound fitness and her stunning 2019 season.
Overall, it doesn't look like Norris has hit her ceiling yet. She held her own in a variety of different races and simply showed up when it mattered the most. Norris is certainly one of the more intriguing names to watch whenever she next toes the line.
24. Camila Noe, Rs. Sophomore, Montana State
Practically an unknown heading into the BIG Sky Championships, Montana State’s Camila Noe let her competition know that she was a force to be reckoned with throughout the 2019 postseason.
Noe had transferred from Portland to Montana State in the winter of 2019. After not competing during the cross country season as a true freshman, Noe entered the Bobcats’ program with all four seasons of cross country eligibility.
The Montana State youngster started the season quietly, winning a small race against the likes of Utah State and Idaho (among others). She won the race by a solid 16 seconds and that was just the start of her superb redshirt freshman season.
She later travel east to Pennsylvania, toeing the line for the Leigh Paul Short Invite. Noe placed 10th in a field of experienced college athletes, but it wasn't a result that necessarily jumped out or made her a Top 50 talent.
However, Noe began to pick up some serious momentum as the season went on. She placed 24th at Pre-Nationals and later came away with a dominating victory at the BIG Sky Championships, taking home the conference title by 34 seconds against competition that included a talented Northern Arizona team.
Then came the surprising 5th place finish at the regional meet which ultimately qualified Noe for NCAA’s. That, however, was only a precursor for the greatest race of her young career. In a field loaded with veterans and on a course that was covered in mud, Noe emerged as the 30th place finisher at the National Championships, comfortably earning All-American honors.
Although the Montana State Bobcat was quiet during the indoor season, it seems fair to say that Noe is a young name who is on the rise. She proved that she is capable of running from the front and her rapid improvement throughout last fall suggests that she still has an extremely high ceiling as far as her potential is concerned.
Whenever she races next, Noe will likely be in the mix for a top finish.
23. Maria Mettler, Senior, Air Force
The 2019 season was fairly quiet for Maria Mettler of the Air Force who didn't race at either Dellinger or Nuttycombe last fall. However, but she made every race count once she toed the line for her postseason endeavors.
At the Mountain West Championships, Mettler came out of nowhere, securing a huge 3rd place finish to pull ahead of teammate Mahala Norris and fall behind only the elite New Mexico duo of Kelati and Kurgat.
After an encouraging 9th place finish at the Mountain Regional Championships, Mettler perfectly peaked for the national meet. The Air Force veteran finished 36th overall and was one of two All-Americans for the Falcons that day, leading the breakout squad to an 8th place team finish.
As for her 2020 indoor track season, Mettler didn't miss a beat. She put up new personal bests in the mile, 3000 meters and 5000 meters. Her 3k time of 9:12 (altitude-converted) ranked her in the top 25 in the NCAA last fall while her more impressive PR of 15:49 (5k) qualified her for the indoor national meet.
Just like a lot of women in this section of our rankings, Mettler was a breakout star who hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. She was a stud during championship races and showed the necessary raw fitness on the indoor oval to be considered as a legitimate low-stick for her team.
It's hard to find any weak points in Mettler's resume, making her a top name to watch moving forward.
22. Grace Forbes, Sophomore, Rice
Grace Forbes made a name for herself during her freshman campaign as a Rice Owl and emerged as one of the most exciting young distance runners in the NCAA.
Forbes only raced twice prior to the South Central Regional Championships last fall, securing a 3rd place finish at the Santa Clara Bronco Invite and a 5th place finish at the Conference USA XC Championship.
Based on those two performances -- which came at meets that aren’t the most competitive -- most wouldn’t have expected Forbes to place 6th at the regional meet and go on to qualify for the 2019 NCAA XC Championships (but she did).
Racing in tough weather conditions and against fierce competition, Forbes held her own and placed a respectable 87th overall at the National Championships. It was a solid result for someone who wasn't even expected to make the national meet in the first place.
Of course, the indoor track season was where Forbes absolutely shattered our expectations. From the beginning of the indoor track season to it's abrupt end, Forbes never placed outside of the top two in any individual race.
The rising sophomore ran two 4:40 miles last winter (winning both races by an average of 6.5 seconds), but the race that shocked us (and the nation) was her 8:56 3k at Boston University when she placed 2nd to professional runner Jessica Hull by only 0.21 seconds.
That time placed Forbes at NCAA #8 on the descending order list for the indoor 3000 meters during the 2020 season according to TFRRS.
You don't just run 8:56 for 3000 meters by meters by accident. That takes a significant amount of high-level talent, something that Forbes clearly has. Her potential is sky-high and although the prospects of her competing this fall don't look great, it's safe to say that she is one of the brightest young stars that the NCAA has to offer right now.
21. Lydia Olivere, Junior, Villanova
Villanova ace Lydia Olivere was a dominant east-coast distance runner throughout the fall of 2019. In a year where the Wildcat women weren't expected to be super competitive, Olivere gave them a spark as only a sophomore and led them to the National Championships.
Of the five meets that Olivere competed in last fall, she won three of them. She only had one hiccup during the 2019 season (placing 63rd at Nuttycombe), but emerged with a BIG East conference title over Anna Kostarellis as well as a Mid-Atlantic regional title over women from Penn State, Georgetown and Princeton.
Those wins were all super encouraging, but Nuttycombe was clearly Olivere's most competitive race of her 2019 cross country season (outside of NCAA's) and she didn't run very well while in Madison, Wisconsin. Understandably, we had questions as to how she would fare at a similarly-loaded meet like the National Championships.
But as it turns out, those questions weren't needed.
Eight days after the regional meet, Olivere finished 29th overall at the national meet in less-than-ideal conditions. It was a massive validating performance, showing that her Nuttycombe performance was just a fluke and that her conference and regional titles were not.
The BIG East and Mid-Atlantic region aren't always considered as the most elite championship meets, but they are always loaded with depth. We don't know when Olivere will race next, but we do know that she'll continue to be one of the premier names on the east coast for the next few years.