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.
When talent and timing come together, a sense of urgency is generated that can push a team to greater heights. That should be the case for Bellarmine College Prep this cross country season, as they try to take advantage of a confluence of ability and experience. The Bells have arguably the best returning 1-2-3 combination in the state with Colin Peattie, Nolan Topper, and Galen Topper (although it appears the Newbury Park may have moved slightly past them for front-running firepower during the offseason). Those three lead a returning top NINE composed entirely of seniors this year! If that hasn't motivated the team top to bottom through this interminably long off season, then I don't know what would.
Despite their strength up front, it's the middle of the Bellarmine varsity that will determine how far the team can go this year. Now that Galen has closed up on his brother, the second group of Aiden Theochung, Clem Walsh, and Christian Yarwood could be as much as 40-50 seconds slower than the top 3, a gap that needs to decrease if the Bells want to challenge for a state championship. Yarwood ran a solid race at Desert Twilight, but the others remain a mystery for now. Depth beyond the top 6 is also a concern: if Bellarmine can develop one or two more runners to challenge for those 4-6 spots, that would solidify their prospects greatly.
Experience shouldn't be a problem for this team, as they return their entire top 7 from the team that finished 3rd in Division 1 last fall. The Bells don't score as high in my Improvement Rating metric as their chief competitors at the state meet, which is largely due to them turning over lots of seniors every year from their huge, deep program. I'm betting that the longer down-time this year will have helped Bellarmine discover a handful of new contributors, and it will only take one to put this team in contention this winter.
*3 Mile times run at Mt. SAC and Crystal Springs