The Sac Joaquin Section gets to fire the first shot in the race to the state championship, as their Sub-Section meet kicks off Saturday.
I have to admit, this meet puzzles me a little bit. First, there is the location at the Frogtown course in Angel's Camp, a long drive for most of the teams that compete. The course itself is very challenging, which seems counterproductive for the first part of a two-meet state qualifying process. The big downhill on Frogtown is notorious for producing injuries (turned ankles, pulled hamstrings, and the like) even in the best of conditions; with rain forecast overnight and into the morning, and with several JV & Frosh/Soph races at the start of the schedule Saturday, the course could be in very rough shape by the time the varsity races roll around. Even if the course holds up, it can wear on a team to have to race on a difficult course late in the season, then come back and compete for even higher stakes the following week. (This is why the Southern Section has moved away from using Mt. SAC for section prelims and finals.)
On the other hand, the timing of the meet does seem to help a bit. Unlike the road to the state meet for the teams down south, the SJS is one of the earliest sections to start its playoffs. That means the finals (next weekend) are two weeks before the state meet, which gives runners a week for recovery. That is also a challenge for coaches who have to plan training that allows their team to compete at top fitness two weekends apart - it can definitely be done, but it takes some finesse.
The top 10 teams and the top 10 individuals not on those teams will advance to next weekend's championship at Willow Hills. As with many section prelims, you can divide the teams competing at Sub-Sections into three groups: those that should advance easily, those that must fight to advance, and those that are wrapping up their season this weekend. The first group just wants to survive intact, and some of the section's best teams may take unusual approaches: pack running at tempo pace, holding out a few runners to preserve health, running 9th- and 10th-grade varsity runners down for the weekend, etc. On the other hand, strong individuals that are not on teams likely to advance will have to run well to make sure they go on to the finals. All of these things can mess with detailed predictions, so lets focus on a broad view of how things should go this weekend.