Are last year’s leaders history?

By: Ruby Wyles

With the 2021 cross country season -the regular Fall one- just underway, we looked back at the top 4 teams from the 2020 NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships that happened in March 2021 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Rosters and pre-season rankings set, which podium teams on track to repeat and where might we see some new names come to the fore?

All 8 teams are set to take full advantage of the extra eligibility, returning most of their scoring runners from last cross country season. The top teams also boast great depth in their roster, with plenty of alternate athletes more than capable of mixing it with D1’s best. 

2020 D1 Men’s NCAA XC Championship Team Results:

  1. Northern Arizona
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Oklahoma State
  4. Arkansas


Northern Arizona (NAU)

On the men’s side, NAU is hit hardest with two of their lowest sticks graduating, Blaise Ferro and Luis Grijalva, who finished 6th and 9th respectively. Remarkably, despite both finishing in the top 10, they were only NAU’s 2nd and 4th scorers, so the team is not short of talented runners with top NCAA championship experience.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Nico Young (4th)

Abdihamid Nur (7th)

Brodey Hasty (44th)

Drew Bosley (62th)

Ryan Raff (150th)


Notre Dame

This is a team on a mission to capture the 2021 team title, returning their whole team from 2020, where 6 of their runners finished as All-Americans! Watch out, with another year of training and development under this young team, they will be a force to be reckoned with this season, led by Tokyo 2020 Olympian Yared Nuguse!

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Danny Kilrea (10)

Dylan Jacobs (20)

Andrew Alexander (21)

Jake Renfree (22)

Yared Nuguse (23)

Joshua Methner (36)


Oklahoma State

Taking place in Florida, the 2021 championships will prove how big a home course advantage Oklahoma State gained the last time out. Like Notre Dame, their young team returns in full, hoping to benefit from their previous championship experience coupled with another year’s training to show that their 3rd place finish was not a fluke.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Isai Rodriguez (8)

Alex Maier (17)

Ryan Smeeton (26)

Victor Shitsama (34)

Kevin Mulcaire (80)

Jonas Price (186)

Ryan Schoppe (230)



The 2021 Arkansas men’s team, made up of mainly upperclassmen, is rich in Championship experience and tactical awareness. Having trained at the highest collegiate level for several years now, this developed team is a sure contender for the podium. The top 5 Razorbacks from the 2020 Championship all return: 3 of the 5 finished as All-Americans.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Amon Kemboi (11)

Luke Meade (38)

Gilbert Boit (40)

Jacob McLeod (57)

Emmanuel Cheboson (63)

Ryan Murphy (207)

2020 D1 Women’s NCAA XC Championship Team Results:

  1. BYU
  2. NC State
  3. Stanford
  4. Michigan State



BYU looks set to repeat their winning ways as we look towards this cross country season. The distance powerhouse is taking full advantage of the extra year of eligibility with all 5 scoring runners from the 2020 championship appearing on their roster for 2021. Rich in talent and big-meet experience, 5th- and 6th-year seniors lead the charge. Back in Provo, Utah, the Cougars house a stable of national calibre athletes looking to make the returning 5 earn their spot on the startline of the 2021 D1 NCAA Cross Country Championships!

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Anna Camp (11th)

Aubrey Frentheway (15th)

Whittni Orton (17th) 

Sara Musselman (33th)

McKenna Lee (41th)


NC State

Like BYU, NC State boasts another deep roster full of championship experience and All-American finishers. The Wolfpack returns 4 of 5, led by two top 10 finishers, Hannah Steelman and Kelsey Chmiel, and top freshman Katelyn Tuohy. One of the youngest teams, NC State is on the rise with another year of collegiate training underneath them. NC State poses the biggest threat to BYU’s dominance; expect the likes of Chmiel, Tuohy, Savannah Shaw and Marlee Starliper, alongside a multitude of young talent, to continue on the success of their seniors and recent graduates.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Hannah Steelman (5)

Kelsey Chmiel (9)

Katelyn Tuohy (24)

Dominique Clairmonte (63)



Stanford is the NAU of the women’s podium when it comes to losing their 1st and 4th scoring runners, Ella Donahue and Christina Aragon, who finished 10th and 88th respectively. Close behind Donahue in 13th, Julia Heymach has the role of leading a different Stanford team to success this cross country season.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Julia Heymach (13)

Jessica Lawson (56)

Lucy Jenks (92)


Michigan State

One of the more surprising podium teams of the 2020 D1 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Michigan State returns all 5 scoring runners, led by 16th place finisher Jenna Magness. The Spartans look set to capitalize on their championship experience with this extra year of eligibility and attempt to match or better their podium finish.

Returners from the 2020 NCAA D1 XC Champs:

Jenna Magness (16)

Lynsie Gram (34)

India Johnson (35)

Makayla Perez (75)

Katie Osika (101)

Other Predictions

It’s not just the 2020 podium teams that have rosters stacked full of returners, and this year in particular some programs will field their strongest ever teams. Watch out for BYU and Oregon on the men’s side, and Arkansas and Alabama on the women’s.

BYU will be seeking revenge after a disappointing 2020 Championships where they were predicted to give NAU a run for the title. Oregon passed on the 2020 race, prioritizing indoors. Back to a typical Fall cross country schedule, we get to see Tokyo Olympic finalist Cole Hocker and US Olympic Team Trials 4th place finished Cooper Teare try to lead their team to victory.

Individual 1st and 3rd place athletes from the 2020 Championships, Mercy Chelangat and Amaris Tynnisma of Alabama, will hope for close packing between their remaining scorers as they shoot for a team podium finish. Arkansas has the strength and depth Alabama lacks, without a clear front runner; their top 5 are all capable of achieving All-American finishes like other 2020 podium teams BYU and NC State.

While the team podium seems pretty wide open, one thing is already for certain though, the 2021 NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships will be one of the deepest and most competitive yet. With perhaps the widest age span ever, the NCAA is full of highly trained and developed athletes with plenty of championship experiences and top finishes. Only time will tell if any young NCAA newcomers can mix it with the recognized names.