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.
40. Lotte Black, Senior, Rhode Island
The 2019-2020 seasons have been very kind to Lotte as she has steadily been improving. She set a new 1500 meter personal record of 4:13 at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships and this past indoor season, elevated her fitness to an entirely level (but more on that in a moment).
The 2019 cross country season wasn't the flashiest season for Black, but it was quietly very solid. She placed 4th overall at the Battle in Beantown and later finished 7th at Paul Short. Both were very respectable results, but they also weren't anything crazy.
However, not to be forgotten was her victory at the Atlantic-10 Championships, her first conference cross country title. She later finished 7th at the Northeast Regional Championships (which were hosted on the roads due to snow) and she individually qualified for the national meet. The Rhode Island Ram would end her season right on the cusp of All-American status as she was 44th overall in her first cross country national meet.
But what really captured our attention was what we saw from Black during the winter months as she ran personal bests of 2:44 (1000), 4:36 (mile) and 9:10 (3k). That array of performances on the track paired with a consistent string of results during cross country was enough to place her at our TSR #40 spot.
Black didn't always race at the most exciting or largest meets, but she always held her own and always produced a strong finish at the races that mattered the most.
39. Paige Hofstad, Rs. Senior, North Carolina
One name that doesn't get enough attention is North Carolina veteran Paige Hofstad who is now in her second year with the Tar Heels after transitioning over from Georgetown. The UNC ace is in her final year of eligibility and after battling a few injuries throughout her career, looks to be on pace for an encouraging 2020 season (if there is one).
Admittedly, the start of Hofstad's 2019 cross country season was relatively quiet. After a rust-buster at the Elon Opener, she secured a respectable 3rd place finish at the Cavalier Classic in Virginia. However, her first real challenge wouldn't come up until Joe Piane, a race she did not fare well in. The Tar Heel runner finished 55th overall in what was truthfully a very deep field.
However, the second half of Hofstad's season was much better. She secured a respectable 19th place finish at Pre-Nationals (finishing ahead of a couple All-Americans) and later went to the ACC Championships where she had (what might be) the race of her life.
Hofstad finished 5th overall at the ACC Championships, putting herself ahead of the entire Florida State team, Notre Dame star Anna Rohrer, Syracuse low-stick Amanda Vestri and numerous others.
But Hofstad wouldn't stop there. After securing a 9th place finish at the Southeast Regional Championships (which qualified her for NCAA's), the UNC ace would go to Nationals and finish 48th overall, just eight spots out from All-American honors.
Overall, it's hard to dislike what Hofstad brings to the table when she's at the top of her game and 100% healthy. She is someone who can very easily find momentum and build upon that for an entire season. Her performance at ACC's indicates that she has All-American potential and plenty of upside.
Her 2019 resume wasn't perfect, but it was still good enough to put her on the cusp of a top-40 ranking.
38. Dorcas Wasike, Rs. Senior, Louisville
This Louisville ace was one of the hardest names to rank. The Cardinal veteran has been a superstar in the NCAA for a while now and has posted some incredible top finishes throughout her career. However, the past year has not treated Wasike well, forcing us to reevaluate her place amongst the NCAA elites.
In 2018, Wasike was easily one of the best distance runners in the country. She won the Louisville Classic, was 3rd in the Pre-Nationals White race (behind Kelati and Kurgat), took home the ACC title and eventually finished 14th at the National Championships.
However, things began to decline for her after that. She qualified for the Indoor National Championships the following winter, but didn't secure All-American honors. She later competed during the 2019 outdoor track season, but was unable to qualify for the National Championships.
Fast forward to the fall, and Wasike was nowhere to be found, remaining absent for the entirety of the 2019 cross country season. The Louisville runner returned for the 2020 indoor track season, but her times were underwhelming and she lacked the same superstar spark that we had seen from her previously.
There's no question that Wasike is talented, but her recent decline is concerning and it's tough to say that she's a top-20 talent right now with the past year and a half suggesting otherwise.
Still, when she's at 100%, she's one of the best distance runners in the country which is why she sneaks in to our TSR #38 spot.
37. Marlee Starliper, Freshman, NC State
One of the many elite recruits joining the NC State women this fall, Marlee Starliper was a superstar at the high school level, securing top finishes and jaw-dropping times that even some of the better collegiates haven't run (yet).
Starliper had the most decorated high school career of anyone in central Pennsylvania (and maybe even the entire state). In the fall of 2019, she finished runner-up at the Foot Locker National Championships, placed 5th at NXN, and won the mile at the Millrose Games in a jaw-dropping personal best of 4:37.
However, what really captured our attention (and catapulted her to the #37 spot in our rankings) was her 3000 meter PR. Starliper's 9:07 at Boston University earlier this year indicates that the future NC State runner still has massive amounts of room to improve.
There may not be a recruit with a higher ceiling than Starliper and that should bode well for an NC State team that is likely eyeing a national title over the next few years.
36. Esther Gitahi, Rs. Junior, Alabama
Take a moment to look at the 2019 National Championship results and try to find Esther Gitahi. You'll be searching for a very long time since she didn't actually race last fall.
However, after a massive breakout 5000 meter performance at the 2019 Outdoor National Championships (where she finished 3rd overall and recorded a 5k PR of 15:51) and a new 3k PR of 9:16 this past indoor season, it's hard to think that Gitahi is anything other than All-American material.
TSR has the Alabama women as a team that is on the rise this season (if there even is a season) and Gitahi will play a huge role in how far they go (whenever that may be).
With a star teammate by her side, Gitahi should be able to translate her incredible success on the track to the grass after spending the first two years of her college career at the JUCO level.
35. Christina Rice, Senior, UCLA
In a world where there is a cross country season, Rice would be leading a quietly competitive UCLA team with the potential to make some serious noise on the grass.
The fall of 2019 was good to Rice who slowly improved as the season went on. She started out her season by finishing 10th in a deep field at the Dellinger Invite, a meet which included BYU, Boise State, Oregon, Portland and Furman.
After a slightly underwhelming (but still respectable) 48th place finish at Nuttycombe, Rice began to pick up some momentum. She was 17th at PAC-12's followed by an 8th place finish at the West Regional Championships.
However, the race of the year came at the National Championships where Rice dropped an outstanding 32nd place finish to finish as an All-American.
Admittedly, her 2019 cross country season didn't have a ton of highlights. Still, that All-American result is too hard to ignore and her Dellinger result was pretty strong as well.
Consistency will be a major aspect to watch with Rice moving forward, but finishing 32rd at the national meet doesn't just happen by mistake -- it takes some serious fitness.
34. Winny Koskei, Rs. Senior, Wichita State
Yet another runner who has displayed some valuable consistency, Koskei is an underrated name who doesn't get enough attention or praise in a sport overwhelmed by powerhouse conferences and schools.
After a respectable, but relatively quiet 13th place finish at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, Koskei and her team ventured to Terre Haute to compete at Pre-Nationals. There, Koskei had what may have been her best performance of the season, finishing 7th overall in a race that included teams such as BYU, Colorado, Michigan, and Washington. That kind of result suggested that she was very much within the All-American conversation.
After winning her second straight American Athletic Conference title and setting a new 6k personal best in the process, Koskei individually qualified for NCAA's out of the Midwest region by placing 3rd.
Koskei didn’t get her second straight All-American finish upon returning to Terre Haute, but she still recorded a very strong 47th place finish.
Like a lot of the women that we have already spoken about, Koskei has showcased underrated consistency throughout her career. However, a prior All-American finish in 2018 and a 7th place finish at Pre-Nats helps her resume standout.
33. Abby Nichols, Senior, Colorado
Fresh out of Columbus, Ohio is Abby Nichols who will look to make an immediate impact in Boulder, Colorado with her Buffaloes as a recent graduate transfer.
Nichols' last year as a Buckeye was a memorable one as she put together what was easily the best cross country season of her career. The future Colorado Buffalo started off the 2019 season a little rocky from a top 50 standpoint, but after shaking off the rust at some early-season meets, Nichols went to Nuttycombe where she threw down a very strong 28th place finish.
That, however, wasn't Nichols' best race. The former Ohio State ace ended up finishing 5th overall at the loaded BIG 10 Championships last fall, finishing ahead of eventual All-Americans such as Ericka VanderLende and Jeralyn Poe.
After a strong 9th place finish at the Great Lakes regional meet, Nichols ventured to Terre Haute with her team. It was there that Nichols secured the bittersweet 41st place finish, just one spot out from All-American honors.
Nichols was not only consistent, but she capitalized on the biggest stages and biggest opportunities of the season. She was seemingly better as the races got larger and showed clear improvement as the season neared November.
With an array of fast times on the track and plenty of veteran experience under her belt, it's hard to find any weak points in Abby Nichols' resume.
32. Maddy Denner, Rs. Sophomore, Notre Dame
The Notre Dame youngster made some serious noise in her first few seasons with the Notre Dame women. She lit up the track as just a freshman and even qualified for the Outdoor National Championships in the 10,000 meters -- an event typically reserved for veteran distance runners.
As a redshirt freshman, the Fighting Irish star proved to be a very capable front-runner at a variety of meets. After earning a respectable 25th place finish at Joe Piane, Denner came out of nowhere and dropped an outstanding 11th place finish at Nuttycombe, just one spot behind superstar teammate Anna Rohrer.
The next race was arguably just as good as Denner pulled away from an extremely deep ACC field loaded with veteran talents to finish 3rd overall.
However, the final portion of Denner's season left something to be desired. She was 39th at the Great Lakes Regional Championships and then 81st at NCAA's.
For more experienced runners, those final two results would be a little concerning. However, youth explains a lot of things when it comes to competing at a national level.
Whether it be inexperience, peaking too early or just a couple of "off days", Denner has proven that she is going to be one of the best distance runners in the NCAA at some point in the very near future.
31. Lauren Gregory, Senior, Arkansas
To say that the fall of 2019 was a bad season for Gregory would be a bit misleading, but it's clear that an early-season injury kept her from being 100%. Even so, when Gregory is healthy, she's one of the better distance runners in the country.
Gregory didn't make her 2019 debut until Nuttycombe where she finished 38th place overall. She then went on to the SEC Championships and placed 9th before ending her season with a 72nd place finish at the National Championships.
If you look at results from 2017 and 2018, you'll see that Gregory is far better than what she showed us in 2019. If there were to be a season this fall, you could make the argument that she is a top-20 talent when healthy.
However, health hasn't been the only challenge for Gregory. Despite owning incredible personal bests of 4:32 (mile), 8:55 (3k) and 15:42 (5k) on the track, the Arkansas veteran has never finished as an All-American during cross country. In fact, her 72nd place finish from 2019 was the best result she's ever had at a national meet on the grass (and it's not even close).
Between health concerns and national meet woes, we opted to bump Gregory out of our preseason top 30. However, don't let this ranking deceive you. When she's at her best, Gregory is capable of taking down some of the top women that the country has to offer.