NC State cross country runner’s path to an NCAA championship

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N.C. State’s Katelyn Tuohy holds the championship trophy as she, Sam Bush, right, and the rest of the Wolfpack women’s cross country team arrives at the Memorial Belltower in Raleigh after winning the NCAA Division I cross country championship Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

ehyman@newsobserver.com

N.C. State’s Katelyn Tuohy was the first to finish, but the last to know.

Tuohy won the individual title Saturday in the 2022 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in frigid Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Wolfpack junior pushed herself to victory over Parker Valby of Florida, coming from behind to win by 3.2 seconds.

But then came a request for an interview from NCAA officials, a change into some warm clothes, and rush of activity. She wasn’t fully sure if the Wolpack had won the NCAA team title for a second straight year.

But then she spotted Pack coach Laurie Henes.

“I asked her ‘Did we win?” and she said. ‘yeah,” Tuohy said Monday on a media call. “Then I ran over to the girls. It was really exciting. I really had no idea.”

All Tuohy knew was that No. 2 New Mexico had five runners in good position. So did Alabama. The Pack’s Kelsey Chmiel finished third, but what about the others?

“I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it was,” Tuohy said. “At the finish line it’s hard to tell because there’s hundreds of runners coming in.”

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Women’s individual winner North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy, center, and runner up Florida’s Parker Valby, right, pose for a group photo after the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Sue Ogrocki AP

The Pack’s Samantha Bush ran down 20 runners in the final kilometer to finish 15th. That was big. Nevada Moreno, a senior and Raleigh native, was 29th and freshman Brooke Rauber was 90th. That was big, too.

“That’s what we talked about before the race, that every person you pass is plus-1 for them and minus-1 for us in the team score,” Tuohy said. “Individually, you have to perform the best you can to contribute to the team score.”

The Pack finished with 114 points in the 6k event, 26 points better than New Mexico (140) and 52 ahead of No. 5 Alabama at the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course. North Carolina (242) was fifth in the team standings.

N.C. State was the first women’s team to repeat as team champion since Villanova in 2010.

Valby was 11.8 seconds ahead of Tuohy and the gap seemed substantial after the first 4k, but Tuohy made her push and ran her down. Tuohy’s time was 19:27.7 and Valby’s 19:30.9. Chmiel, a senior, finished at 19:37.1.

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North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy heads to the finish line to win the individual title in the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Sue Ogrocki AP

It helps, Tuohy said, that she has Chmiel to help push her at NCSU. The two have been running with and against each other since their high school days in New York — Tuohy at North Rockland High in Stony Point and Chmiel at Saratoga Springs High — and are two of the nation’s best at the collegiate level.

Tuohy, 20, has been in the national spotlight before, as a young phenom. She has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, set national high school records and was the only person to be named a three-time Gatorade Athlete of the Year for cross country.

“I definitely did have a lot of pressure on me in high school and it kind of carried into college,” Tuohy said. “I think what helped me adjust the best was coming to N.C. State and being surrounded by a great team culture and a coaching staff that really cared for me. Having a team that performs so well takes pressure off you individually.”

Tuohy was 24th in the 2020 NCAA Cross Country Championship and was 15th in 2021, gaining All-America status both years. She also became the 5,000-meter national champion in the 2022 Division I NCAA Track & Field Championships after second-place finishes in the 5,000 and 3,000 at the NCAA Indoor.

Now, she has an NCAA cross country individual championship.

“She’s just so level-headed, such a hard worker and such a great team player,” Henes told the N&O Saturday.

The Wolfpack team returned to Raleigh on a charter flight Saturday and headed to campus to find the Belltower bathed in red and a celebration awaiting. They wore their new NCAA championship T-shirts and showed off the big trophy, smiles all around, and got a Belltower tour.

“We got a nice warm welcome,” Tuohy said. “It was an honor to receive the key and open it up for the girls to go in there and experience it.”

But no time for some R&R. Tuohy said she got in about 10 miles Monday — there’s a 5k indoor race in Boston to be run in a couple of weeks.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.

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