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.
--It took an infusion of young talent in 2019 to get Buchanan over the top and win the Division 1 state championship, and now that valuable experience makes them contenders this year and beyond. The Bears return 7 runners at 19:06 or faster, and Morgan Hutchison is the only senior among them. Sydney Sundgren leads the way after finishing 6th last fall, and she is joined by fellow sophs Grace Hutchison and Caroline Mendyk as the projected top 3 for the next three years (not to mention Macee Buckley in the top 7 as well). Keylee Elliott and Allison Yee represent the Class of 2022 on the varsity squad, giving them the opportunity to step up and lead for two seasons.
Unlike the majority of distance programs around the state, we did get some track data on Buchanan, who raced at two major invitational before the shutdown. Sundgren broke 11 in her debut 3200, and the Bears put 5 returners between 5:09 and 5:15 in the 1600. That's indicative of two strengths this team can take into the winter: they have a budding star #1 runner, and they also have the potential for a very close-packed 2-5 behind her.
Buchanan has been climbing the ranks of my Improvement Ratings over the last several seasons, another sign that this program is developing talent from year to year. The Bears have been the top improvers in the state over the last 3 years (using 3 Mile data), and they rank 3rd for a 5-year span (using 5K data). They may not need to add anyone to this year's top 7 to defend their title, but mixing in a few new youngsters could help this team aim for a bona-fide streak of their own. And if they DO add another top 5 caliber runner this winter, they'll be extremely hard to beat.