For the last several years I've done a Countdown to XC feature in the 30 days leading up to the start of the fall season. This strange school year will be no exception! However, the usual format for the countdown won't work this time around - it depends heavily on spring track data (which we don't have) to evaluate championship contenders and try to predict emerging challengers. So, instead of a rankings-style countdown, I'm going to feature 30 boys teams and 30 girls teams that I think will have a significant impact on the upcoming, unique winter cross country season. We'll begin with the obvious contenders state-wide and in every section, and then work our way to some potential sleepers.
How do you replace runners of the caliber of Nico Young and Jace Aschbrenner? You don't, really, and this year's Panther squad will look a little different because of their loss. Rather than supporting two heavy hitters up front with solid depth, this team will depend on a close, deep pack with the ability to rotate top runners and easily cover for anyone who has an off day. (If you need current evidence of the strength of that pack, look no further than their 24-second 1-5 split at the Desert Twilight Classic.) That means even more in a compressed season
Despite the loss of such talented graduates, Newbury Park is still the team to beat in California for several reasons. It helps when you return finishers #5 (Colin Sahlman) and #11 (Nicholas Goldstein) from the Division 2 state meet last fall, and also when you get sophomore Lex Young back healthy to join twin brother Leo and Aaron Sahlman to form a potent Class of 2023 trio in the top 7. It also helps when you get a transfer like Christian Simone (from Great Oak), who can fit right into your varsity crew and bolster your depth significantly.
This team isn't going anywhere once the winter season concludes, either: the Panthers only had 2 seniors in their top 7 when they raced in Arizona.