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.
I know we harp on this a lot, but Division 2 is loaded with strong teams, especially in the Southern Section. The 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-place teams (Serrano, El Toro, and Canyon) all lost significant talent to graduation, but all three also have enough returning talent to be back in the hunt this winter. That, plus the unknowns brought on by the extended off season, makes it especially difficult to project how the Southern Section will shake out. In truth, any of these squads (and three or four more) could emerge as the strongest in this group of close competitors.
El Toro returns solid depth and a balanced team, with three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores vying for spots in the top 7. Kasey Lynd led the Chargers to their 4th-place finish in the 2019 state meet, and she will have seniors Paulette Dominguez and Olivia Reichle along with fellow junior Darla Medina backing her up in a solid 2-4 pack. There is a gap back to the next three returners, then a big drop-off beyond that - which means depth is a serious concern for this team.
The Chargers have quietly been one of California's best teams at developing runners from season to season, ranking in the top 10 of the Improvement Rating metric over the last 5 years - and if you leave out a 2018 season in which they uncharacteristically struggled, their top 5 average has improved by at least 30 seconds in the other four years. El Toro will need a few runners to step up and fill out their top 7, perhaps an infusion of young talent, but their record indicates they will be back at the state meet competing for a top 5 finish.