2022 is shaping up to be one of the best men's and women's cross country seasons yet, with big names, elite teams and more loading up for championship runs. Here are five storylines that will define the 2022 DI cross country season.
Can NAU keep the dynasty going?
Northern Arizona has won five of the last six men's cross country national championships, including the last two titles. The last time Lumberjacks won back-to-back titles, they ended up three-peating the next year. In 2022, NAU loses standout Abdihamid Nur, but Drew Bosley and Nico Young return. They'll have the talent to make a literal run at another title.
Will a new women's team win for the 13th consecutive year?
The last time a women's cross country team won back-to-back championships was when Villanova did so in 2010. Since then, nine different teams have won the title. Only twice has the previous champion finished as runner-up the next year. Given recent history, a new team not named NC State should have its eyes set on the championship.
Who will emerge as the individual champion?
In 2021, BYU swept the individual championships with Conner Mantz (men's) and Whittni Orton (women's) taking home the titles. Both are gone in 2022, leaving an opening at the top. Who will rise above the rest this year?
On the women's side, the second-, third- and fifth-place finishers all return as Alabama's Mercy Chelangat, West Virginia's Ceili McCabe and Oklahoma State's Taylor Roe will look to take the top spot. On the men's side, just one individual from the top seven finishers returns — Stanford's Charles Hicks, leaving the field wide open.
There's plenty of time and invitationals between the start of the season and the DI championships, but watch out for athletes vying for the individual crown.
Who's the next star freshman?
Hicks' fourth-place finish at last year's championships was just one of the many elite performances from freshmen in 2021. Hicks' teammate Ky Robinson and NCAA team champion Nico Young were some of the other freshmen to burst on the scene on the men's side. NC State's Katelyn Tuohy, Kentucky's Tori Herman and New Mexico's Emma Heckel form a trio of women's cross country runners who finished in the top 20 at NCAAs.
After an impressive season from freshmen in 2021, 2022 leaves one question. Who's next?
Will the Nuttycombe decide the champion yet again?
While eight out of the past 14 combined team NCAA champions won at Nuttycombe during the same year, the last year saw neither champion come from Wisconsin's premier event.
However, 2022 will see the men's and women's defending champions competing as part of a loaded slate. With elite team after elite team at the start line in 2022's Nuttycombe, the invitational may return to its championship-predicting ways.