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.
--You know you have a strong program when a writer can point to a season that ended with a 3rd-place finish in Division 2 and wonder if you underperformed just a bit. The reason why I say that is Claremont has been one of California's most consistent at year-to-year improvement, ranking 5th over the last 5 seasons using 3 mile times, but their 2019 season fell a little short of that usual progress. I'm betting that was an anomaly, and we can expect the Wolfpack to be right back at the level we've come to expect from them.
This team will need significant improvement, because they graduated four of their top 7 runners from the state meet. Current senior Jack Keough-Lansford leads a smaller but still strong Class of 2021 for Clarement, joined by Askari Ahad and Rowan Orlijan-Rhyne. It's the junior class the Wolfpack will really lean on to fill in the gaps left by departed runners - and it looks like Chris Coles and Jason Miranda are definitely up to the task. There are several more juniors and seniors in the program that are candidates to step up and fill out the top 7, enough to give me confidence that there will be enough depth to be competitive at the state level again.
One interesting note: Claremont doesn't have a single sophomore in its top 12, which will need to be remedied to continue this program's run of high finishes in the Southern Section and at the state meet. The current pool of talent is strong and deep enough to project the Wolfpack as contenders, but not enough to separate them significantly from the other Southern Section programs nipping at their heels.