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.
--As I continue to profile the top tier of Southern Section contenders, one team keeps catching my eye. Mira Costa finished 5th in Division 1 last fall after just barely getting out of the Southern Section and had 3 seniors in their top 7 in that race, which isn't exactly a resume that would push a team to toward the front of this list. The Mustangs do have a star up front in junior Dalia Frias, the top returner from the D1 state meet, and they have a solid core behind her in fellow Class of 2022 runners Ella Parsley and Kayla Kershaw. Unfortunately, the gap between Frias and her returning support was very large in 2019, and depth is a problem when you graduate 3 varsity runners.
Which leads me to what grabbed my attention in the first place: Mira Costa had an strong off season showing at the Desert Twilight Festival, showing progress that should go a long way to addressing my concerns. Sophomores Anna Chittenden and Heather Jensen ran 2-3 there, indicating they are ready to step up and bolster the top 7 (Chittenden clocking sub-19 is particularly important). Even more interesting: Mira Costa ran 11 runners in Arizona, all of them current juniors and sophomores.
There will still be a big gap between Frias and the rest of the squad, but if the Mustangs can build a close pack in the 18's they will be hard to beat. With seniors Jasmin Peterman and Julia Vazquez also contending for spots in the top 5, the potential is there for this team to be better than last year. Year-to-year improvement for this team has been a bit scattershot the last 3 seasons, but over the long term this has been a consistent program. I'm betting the extended off season will pay off in a podium contender this winter.