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.
--The determination of Jesuit's runners to put up some big track times despite the pandemic had two benefits for all of us: it gave us something to watch & talk about during a lost spring season, and it also helps us project those runners' improvement for this winter. The returning top two for the Marauders, Spencer Pickren and Michael Chambers, ran 4:17 and 4:19, respectively, showing they are on track to lead the team this fall. The most impressive breakthrough, though, came from Ajani Salcido: his 4:11.86 full mile was a revelation, and hopefully it means he has shaken off what seemed like a very difficult 2019 for him.
If Salcido becomes a top 3 runner this winter (and that mile surely indicates that potential), Jesuit should have five runners solidly in the 15's, and that would put them in contention for a podium finish this winter. Sophomore Jacob Swanson and junior Braden King can progress substantially after getting experience at the 2019 state meet, which would improve the top 5 even further.
The one potential hitch in this plan is depth. The Marauders need returning #6 runner Preston Conner to keep pace with the improvement of the top 5, and after him there is a drop-off that needs to be addressed. This program has been one of the top 5 in the state at year-over-year improvement in the last 7 cross country seasons, so I'm counting on Jesuit being right back in the mix when they get to Clovis in March.
*not enough returning times to generate a team ranking