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.
If there is a team that can challenge Newbury Park for the D2 title this winter, it's Dana Hills. The Dolphins have enough talent to clearly separate them from the rest of the contenders and put them in striking range of the state's top returning squads, and it wouldn't be a big surprise to see this team on top of the podium this winter.
To begin with, Dana Hills only lost 2 from the team that finished 2nd in Division 2 in 2019. That does include the graduation of last year's #1 runner, but the Dolphins have a rising star in junior Jai Dawson who should be able to step into those shoes ably. Brandon Pizano and Gianni Viola hold down the 2 and 3 spots, with Ryan Broadhead and Joseph Moersch not far behind.
The Dolphins have been one of California's best and most consistent teams at year-to-year improvement, scoring in the top 5 in my Improvement Ratings over 3-year and 5-year periods and ranking 2nd behind only Great Oak over the past 7 seasons. That gives me confidence the team will be able to address my top concern: depth. Dana Hills is very solid 1-5 but has a gap after that, and they will need a few more runners to step up and challenge for spots in the top 5. Ethan Johnson is a candidate to make that leap, as is Justin Boos - or perhaps there will be a new talent discovered and developed that we don't know about yet.
With six seniors in the returning top 7 going into this winter, Dana Hills is on the verge of something special, and they only need good improvement across the board - or one breakthrough season - to make it happen.