Future Stars: These Athletes Have Shattered Expectations

Macy Wingard (Denton Braswell, TX) is the top-ranked freshman for 5k nationally so far this season.

Photo Credit: Stuart Kantor/MileSplit Texas

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As the cross country season continues, many of the nation's up-and-coming talents continue to make names for themselves.

That includes athletes who have set school records, shaved chunks off of previous PRs and already hit end-of-season goals just a month into the cross country season.

Which young future stars have emerged on the national forefront?

Continue scrolling to see which featured athletes should be ones to watch as their young cross country careers continue to progress.

Macy Wingard, Denton Braswell (TX)

Class of 2026

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In an interview with MileSplit Texas' William Grundy following her win at the Braswell Little D Invitational on Sept. 23, Wingard said her goal this fall was to simply run under 18 minutes for 5k.

Wingard may need to adjust that goal going forward.

The Denton Braswell (TX) freshman has achieved her goal not once, but three times so far this season, which includes a 17:15.30 personal best performance at the Marcus Coach T Invitational in early September. Nationally, she sit atop the class of 2026 rankings thanks to that 17:15.30 clocked a few weeks ago.

In five meets this season, Wingard has come away victorious in four of them. At the Marcus Coach T Invitational -- the only meet she didn't win an individual title at -- she finished as the runner-up.

Now that the freshman has begun to realize some of her star potential, she could be one to watch in Texas and beyond come time for the state championships and postseason national competition.

Owen Clemons, Cleveland (TN)

Class of 2026

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He's one we pinned as an incoming freshman to watch on the course this fall, and Clemons has certainly lived up to the hype.

In his high school debut, the Cleveland (TN) up-and-comer finished 10th at The Southern Showcase, running 15:09.31 for 5k on a very quick John Hunt Running Park course. With that elite-level season opener, Clemons currently ranks first in the nation for the class of 2026 for 5k.

On the same course last December at the RunningLane Cross Country Championships, Clemson clocked 15:17.27 as an eighth-grader. Now, he's already improved upon that previous best by nearly 10 seconds. 

Who's to say what else Clemons can accomplish this season?

In 2021, it was Knoxville Catholic's Keegan Smith who emerged from Tennessee as a national freshman phenom. Perhaps Tennessee's next young star in Clemons will keep the recognition as the best freshman boy in the country in-house as his debut season progresses.

Emily Cohen, Cherry Creek (CO)

Class of 2026

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Cherry Creek (CO) already holds a strong reputation as one of the top girls programs in Colorado this season. And with one of the fastest girls in the nation in Addison Price leading the helm, they've shot up the national rankings just a month into the fall season.

But enter Emily Cohen.

As just a freshman, Cohen has been a game changer for Cherry Creek, boosting the squad's national stock.

She's developed into a solid No. 2 runner for the program, proving vital in Cherry Creek's team showings against other top Colorado schools like Arapahoe, Air Academy and Valor Christian. 

Her 17:26.40 5k performance at the highly-touted Liberty Bell Invitational put her 10th overall -- the best finish for a freshman at the meet -- and ranks her as the third-fastest girl nationally in the class of 2026. Cohen has already gone under 18 minutes twice this season and has finished in the top 10 in each of the five races she's contested so far this season, which includes elite meets like Liberty Bell and the Roy Griak Invitational.

Without Cohen, Cherry Creek would certainly be at a disadvantage, and likely wouldn't have garnered four-straight team wins to begin the season. It's a mutually-beneficial relationship, too, as being a key member of a nationally-ranked team as a freshman will give Cohen valuable experience racing at a high level that she can tap into going forward in her career.

Brady Mullen, Jesuit (LA)

Class of 2025

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Prior to his sophomore year, Mullen didn't even train full-time for distance running. According to Jesuit (LA) coach Cullen Doody, the underclassman turned his primary athletic attention to basketball in 2021, running in the fall and spring and taking to the court in the winter months.

But in 2022, Mullen has devoted his full efforts to the cross country season -- and it's already paying off.

Mullen opened up at The Southern Showcase with a 15:08.38 5k for ninth place, earning him a Jesuit school record and a nearly 30-second personal best. He came away as Jesuit's top runner, which for the MileSplit50 No. 4-ranked team full of veteran returners makes for quite the storyline in the early season.

That 5k performance also makes Mullen fastest boy in Louisiana and the sixth-fastest sophomore nationally up to this point.

Watch for Mullen to be a crucial factor in Jesuit's hunt for a national team title at the RunningLane Cross Country Championships in December, and improve upon his all-time school best.

Brynn Garcia, JSerra Catholic (CA)

Class of 2025

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At the Woodbridge Classic, Garcia opened up her season in statement-making fashion.

Shaving nearly a full minute off of a personal best certainly classifies the JSerra Catholic (CA) sophomore as an underclassmen with star potential.

In her first race of the fall, Garcia finished seventh in the sweepstakes race at Woodbridge, running 16:09.70 in a field full of the nation's top competitors, including fellow sophomore phenom Sadie Engelhardt (Ventura, CA).

Her three-mile PR from last year? 17:04.90, also from Woodbridge.

A year later, Garcia finds herself among the nation's elite, currently ranked US No. 10 for three miles this season.

Garcia could be the one to watch in the California as the season continues, especially leading into the state championships. She finished 15th last year in the Division 4 competition, but she now could be an early-season favorite for a state title.