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.
Defending Division 3 champion Campolindo graduated three runners from their state meet squad from 2019, which is a lot to replace. On the other hand, they ran a freshman (Alexander Lodewick) and a sophomore (Rhys Pullen) in Clovis, and Pullen should be joined by several more rising juniors vying for spots in the top 7, Marco Chao chief among them. The Cougars do have a strong and deep senior class again this year (9 of their top 12 returners in the 3 mile are seniors), so any help the Class of 2022 can provide will only bolster the team's chances this winter.
Dylan Gunn is the top returning individual from the D3 state meet race, and we're very sorry that we didn't get to see him continue his strong fall season into the spring and post some big track times. Fellow senior Owen Lekki will join him in the top 5 this year, with Jack Pieper and Vishal Lashkari also competing to be in the top 7. Having two such balanced classes of runners is a rare luxury, and it's possible that Campolindo is set up to contend next season as well as this one.
Depth could be a strength for the Cougars, but the spacing of their returning runners isn't ideal. Behind a front 4 separated by 30 seconds, there's another 30 seconds back to the returning #5 and 30 seconds again to #6. If Campolindo has taken advantage of the extra offseason training time to work on tightening up those gaps and running together, it will make them a formidable opponent this winter.