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.
--We've reached that point in any cross country season preview when we try to untangle all the Southern Section contenders. These teams are always incredibly competitive and very close to each other and often switch places from week to week in the championship season, so please don't consider the next several articles as a ranked order - there is no way to definitively predict how strong these teams will be to start the season, let alone when March rolls around. Still, we can name the teams that are likely to be battling for titles in their division races the last 2 meets of the season.
Canyon (Anaheim Hills) is certainly one of those programs. Coming off a 5th-place finish in ultra-competitive Division 2 last fall (in which they were only 43 points out of 2nd place), the Comanches have enough returning talent to be right back in the mix this winter. That starts with star #1 runner Emma Hadley, the #9 returner in the state at 3 miles. She leads a talented and deep junior class that should keep Canyon in contention through the 2021 season - after losing three seniors from their 2019 varsity, this squad only has one (Sarah Paino) in their projected top 8. Class of 2022 members Isabella Frisone and Grace Walker are locks for the top 5, while Annie Drelling and Teagan Carr will be joined by sophomores Keira Potter and Diana Bolton in battling for the remaining varsity spots.
Any time you graduate 3 of your top 7 runners, depth is going to be a concern. The Comanches have a gap after their returning 4th runner that needs to be addressed, but they do have a good pool of talent with which to fill it. Canyon's year-to-year improvement has been up and down the last 3 seasons, but over the long term they have a solid record of progression that suggests this team will be at least as strong this winter as it was in 2019, and quite possibly stronger when next fall rolls around.