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.
50. Maudie Skyring, Senior, Florida State
One of the more underappreciated distance talents in the NCAA, Skyring brings key veteran experience, a recent surge in fitness and a handful of solid results to the table when talking about the 50 best distance runners in the country.
Skyring's first true test of the 2019 cross country season came at a loaded Joe Piane field where she quietly held her own, securing a key 17th place finish. That was enough to put her ahead of other talented names and multiple "fringe" All-American candidates.
However, her Pre-Nationals performance was simply not as good. In a field that was arguably not as deep as Joe Piane, the Florida State ace dropped to 36th overall. Luckily, she would rebound at ACC's with a key 10th place finish, further establishing herself as a potential All-American.
Skyring didn't secure a top-40 finish, but she did place 69th overall at the National Championships to wrap up her season.
However, her indoor track season is what really gave her the edge to be placed in our preseason rankings. She dropped a 4:37 mile during the indoor track season and qualified for the indoor national meet with that result.
Last year showed us that Skyring not only has outstanding potential, but that she's also making consistent improvements in her fitness. She has plenty experience of not only racing at large invitationals, but thriving in those meets as well.
Pre-Nationals was likely just a bump in the road for Skyring, leading us to believe that she could be an All-American in a year where everything is normal and where meets aren't cancelled.
49. Ashley Tutt, Junior, Northern Illinois
The Northern Illinois front-runner ended the 2019 cross country season ranked at #50 in our power rankings. However, the introduction of star freshmen, international athletes and athletes making improvements on the track forced us to keep Tutt at the TSR #49 spot.
Even so, Tutt had a very solid season where she held her own in fields both big and small. In fact, she took home a trio of wins at the NIU Husky Classic, Loyola Lakefront Collegiate Invitational and the Mid-American Conference Championships.
Admittedly, the competition at each of those meets wasn't particularly strong compared to some of the other meets around the nation.
Even so, Tutt also toed the line for Pre-Nationals where she secured a very nice 17th place finish. After placing 4th in the Midwest region, Tutt wrapped up her season with a 50th place finish at the National Championships -- pulling ahead of numerous women who had previously beaten her at Pre-Nationals.
It's hard to look at Tutt's resume and find any flaws. She wasn't a superstar, but she was extremely consistent and always produced a solid result regardless of the competition that she was facing. That aspect of her resume needs to be highlighted and it's a big reason why she has returned to our XC Top 50.
48. Julia Heymach, Junior, Stanford
The rising junior from Stanford had an outstanding year of performances during the 2019-20 academic calendar, making her one of the top "on the rise" athletes in the country entering this fall.
Heymach's 2019 cross country started out slow, but by no means poorly. She finished a respectable 17th at the John McNichols Invite and settled for an unexciting 46th place finish at Nuttycombe.
However, the PAC-12 Championships is where Heymach really began to find her groove. She was 13th at the always-loaded conference meet and later finished 12th in the West region. At the National Championships, Heymach maintained her newfound fitness by placing 63rd overall.
Usually, those kinds of performances would warrant a "Just Missed" or "Honorable Mention" selection. However, what Heymach did during the indoor season is what truly caught our eye. She dropped an outstanding new mile PR of 4:33 while also running solid times of 2:04 (800) and 2:45 (1000).
While it's certainly fair to argue that middle distance races on the track are significantly different than 6k races during cross country, we also believe that Heymach's incredible leap in fitness will translate to the grass.
Dropping seven seconds off your mile time (especially when you were already at Heymach's level) tells us that she still has plenty more to show later this fall...or whenever we next have a cross country season.
47. Samantha Drop, Rs. Senior, Georgia
Drop was a very tricky name for us to figure out during the construction of our XC Top 50 rankings. She has had some great performances in the past, but has also lacked consistency.
An All-American in 2017, Drop kicked-off her season with a win at the Bulldog Invitational. That, however, was just a rust-buster. At Paul Short, she would struggle to stay with her sister (Jessica Drop) and the rest of the top pack, falling all the way to 38th place.
The next race wasn't much better as Drop recorded a DNF result at Pre-Nationals (according to TFRRS).
However, Drop suddenly turned things around during the latter portion of the season. She was 8th in a very top-heavy field at the SEC Championships and later qualified for NCAA's out of the South region by placing 5th overall.
If you would have told me after Pre-Nationals last year that Samantha Drop would be five spots out from an All-American finish at the national meet, I'm not sure I would have believed you. That, however, is exactly what happened. Drop rallied to a 45th place finish at the National Championships to finish off her season.
Admittedly, the fall of 2019 was far from perfect for Drop and it had plenty of results to be cautious about. Still, this is someone who has learned how to peak in time for the National Championships. She's already been an All-American once and has been very close to achieving it twice.
Her championship accolades and history of success are hard to ignore.
46. Brogan MacDougall, Junior, Wisconsin
MacDougall is a difficult name to rank, simply because she hasn't had a ton of experience racing against NCAA competition. The recent Canadian transfer officially joined the Wisconsin Badgers this offseason, giving the women from Madison another potential low-stick that they can rely on after losing Alicia Monson and Amy Davis.
MacDougall comes into the NCAA with strong personal bests of 16:06 (5k) and 9:08 (3k). She also qualified for the U20 XC World Championships in March of 2019 where she finished 47th overall. She was also the U-Sports 2018 cross country champion, going undefeated in her first year as a Canadian collegiate.
In terms of NCAA competition, MacDougall did race at the 2019 Paul Short Invite. She finished 6th overall (one spot behind her sister, Branna) in what some would say was a good, but not necessarily amazing performance. MacDougall finished ahead of eventual All-American Camila Noe (Montana State) and NCAA 44th place finisher Lotte Black, but fell behind NCAA D2 runner-up Eilish Flanagan as well as Georgia ace Jessica Drop.
Overall, it's difficult to know for sure where MacDougall's place amongst the NCAA's best runners is. However, her resume clearly shows that she is exceptionally talented and that she can compete against some of the top women in the country.
Regardless of her exact place, she'll be a great low-stick that the Badger women can rally around over the next few seasons (or whenever we next have competition).
45. Taylor Ewert, Freshman, Arkansas
Yet another true freshman, Ewert was one of the few high school distance runners who truly challenged Katelyn Tuohy this past fall. The future Arkansas runner was one of the best distance runners in Ohio history and has the cross country accolades that the Razorbacks will need after losing a plethora of key names from last year's title-winning lineup.
Ewert was a two-time Foot Locker national qualifier during her time in high school, placing 4th in 2018 and 6th in 2019. Not only that, but Ewert was also a three-time Nike Cross Nationals qualifier, a championship meet that some would argue has been more competitive than Foot Locker over the past couple of years. In each of those NXN races, Ewert finished 18th (2017), 3rd (2018) and 2nd (2019).
However, what truly stands out about Ewert's 2019 NXN result is that she nearly took down Katelyn Tuohy in that race -- arguably the most dominant high school cross country runner the nation has ever seen.
On the track, Ewert has recorded personal bests of 4:48 (mile), 9:40 (3k) and 10:17 (3200). She also owns a 5k personal best of 16:57 from the 2018 cross country season. However, it's important to note that Ewert has also invested a lot of her time and energy into non-traditional events like the steeplechase and race-walk.
Overall, Ewert is a highly-experienced high school elite who has done more than just hold her own against (what may be) the greatest era of girls high school distance runners ever. That alone should indicate that she'll be a vital piece for the women in Fayetteville over the next four to five years.
44. Katelynne Hart, Freshman, Michigan
There are very few incoming freshmen who have the championships accolades and outstanding personal bests that Katelynne Hart does.
The soon-to-be Michigan freshman was a stud at the high school level, qualifying for the Foot Locker National Championships three times in a row while recording finishes of 2nd (2017), 2nd (2018) and 4th (2019). Hart also qualified for Nike Cross Nationals four years in a row, recording finishes of 18th (2016), 4th (2017), 16th (2018) and 50th (2019).
Not only that, but Hart has also been able to translate her long distance success on the grass to the track. The Michigan native dropped a jaw-dropping PR of 16:09 for 5000 meters this past indoor season as Boston University. That time pairs well with her personal bests of 4:38 (1600), 9:17 (3k) PR and 9:52 (3200) PR.
Overall, Hart is simply an elite talent who has shown on countless occasions that she can be one of the best distance runners in the country once she gets to the NCAA.
Admittedly, she doesn't have as many wins on the national stage as one might expect, but that shouldn't take away from what she can bring to the table for this Wolverines team. It's important to not get too carried away when ranking freshmen, but Hart is one young talent who is just too good to ignore.
43. Elizabeth Funderburk, Junior, Florida State
Part of the dynamic 1-2 punch alongside Maudie Skyring, Funderburk quietly put together a very underrated 2019 cross country season last fall. She was a big reason why Florida State had such a strong season in 2019 and why they could be even in better in 2020 (if there even is a season).
Funderburk's first true test of the 2019 season came at the Joe Piane Invitational where she placed 23rd overall. Although it wasn't anything incredible, it was still a solid result that the ladies of FSU should have been encouraged about.
Fast forward to Pre-Nationals where Funderburk continued to establish solid results. She finished 11th overall, pulling ahead of the eventual Ivy League champ Kayley DeLay, UNC ace Paige Hofstad, NIU's Ashley Tutt and numerous others.
Things only got better for Funderburk after she dropped a very impressive 8th place finish at the ACC Championships. She wasn't able to topple any future All-Americans, but she did assert herself as one of the better scorers in the ACC and a potential All-American candidate.
However, after cruising through the South Regional Championships, Funderburk would have her first "off day" of the 2019 cross country season, placing 101st overall at NCAA's.
Overall, Funderburk showed plenty of strength, consistency and poise throughout last fall. Her race at the national meet wasn't great, but it didn't necessarily overshadow her results throughout the season at highly competitive invitationals.
42. Alissa Niggemann, Senior, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin veteran had a 2019 cross country season that was very similar to Funderburk. She was a consistent regular season performer who really only had one not-so-great race during the season.
Niggemann finished 18th overall at the Joe Piane Invitational, establishing herself as someone who could potentially be a low-stick for the Badgers in the future. However, her race at Nuttycombe wasn't as strong as she placed 59th on her home course. It wasn't necessarily a bad result, but one could argue that it wasn't nearly as strong as what she did at Notre Dame.
Niggemann would later go into the BIG 10 meet where she reestablished herself as a reliable top scorer. The Wisconsin runner placed 9th overall in what may have been the deepest conference meet in the country last year.
After Wisconsin breezed through the regional meet, Niggemann toed the line in Terre Haute, Indiana. After the gun went off and the race was run, Niggemann ended up finishing in 52nd place overall, 12 spots out from All-American honors.
While her Nuttycombe performance wasn't great, it's hard not to be impressed with her other performances throughout the season. Niggemann thrived in large invitationals and was able to standout in extremely deep fields.
While she didn't necessarily produce a superstar-type result, she did establish herself as someone that the Wisconsin women can rely on.
41. Anna Kostarellis, Senior, New Mexico
The rising senior made headlines this offseason when it was announced that she would be finishing her eligibility as a graduate transfer at the University of New Mexico. The Lobos were in need of an additional cross country scorer after losing Ednah Kurgat to expired eligibility. Kostarellis isn't expected to replace all of Kurgat's lost scoring potency, but she certainly offers plenty of value.
During her time with Xavier, Kostarellis began her 2019 season at the Commodore Classic where she finished a respectable 5th place overall. She would later go on to win the Louisville Classic.
It wasn't until Pre-Nationals where Kostarellis faced her first real challenge. In Terre Haute, Indiana, she finished 16th overall against a very respectable field. While it didn't necessarily vault her into the "guaranteed All-American" category, it did place her ahead of some talented women such as Ashley Tutt, Emily Royston, Paige Hofstad and eventual All-Americans Camila Noe and Jessica Drop.
Fast forward to the BIG East Championships and Kostarellis was continuing to find momentum. She finished 2nd overall to eventual All-American Lydia Olivere and put herself ahead of a quietly deep and respectable field.
After individually qualifying out of the Great Lakes region, Kostarellis went on to the National Championships where she settled for a respectable 66th place finish.
Kostarellis wasn't necessarily a star front-runner last year, but she was still darn good and a very reliable ace for the Xavier women. Her consistency was an underrated aspect of her 2019 season and she never really had a bad race.
In a world where everything is normal and there isn't a global pandemic, Kostarellis becomes a massive scoring help for the New Mexico Lobos this fall.