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.
--To go from not making the state meet at all in 2017 and 2018 to winning Division 2 in 2019 is unbelievable, and yet that's exactly what Newbury Park did. The Panthers had a magical season last fall, and they return enough talent to be a threat to defend their title, but 2020 will present some challenges.
First and foremost, this team lost three seniors from their championship squad, so depth will be a concern. The Panthers still have a potent top two in Samantha McDonnell (who already ran 17:42 for 5K at Desert Twilight) and Fiona Hawkins, with Ailish Hawkins, Hannah Round, and Morgan Nygren providing strong support to round out their projected top 5. Beyond that, though, there is a nearly 1 minute drop-off to Newbury Park's next returning time.
It would be unrealistic to expect the massive improvement this team has made the last few years to continue at that pace (not least because part of it was fueled by an incoming transfer). However, a big team-wide leap forward isn't required to keep the Panthers in contention this winter; all they need to do is develop 1 or 2 more top 7 runners that can close the gap to their top 5. If that mission is accomplished, a repeat is definitely within reach for Newbury Park.
Newbury Park Stats:
*not enough returning times to generate a team ranking