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.
Can you lose your top two runners to graduation and still be better the next year? You can if those two seniors were the only two on your varsity team (and there were only three in your top 15). Crescenta Valley is a team on the rise, and I expect them to improve on their 9th place finish in Division 1 in 2019. One key to this impression is the program's recent year-to-year improvement, which has been outstanding: 4th-best in California over the past 3 years using 5K data and 5th-best using 3 mile times. That is supported by strong depth in a season-opening 3200 last spring, before the pandemic shut everything down.
Another important factor to consider: that 9th-place finish was not the best performance for the Falcons, so it's not a good basis for judgment. It sounds a bit different to say that Crescenta Valley is returning seven of their top 10 runners from a squad that finished second in the Southern Section Division 1 race. That should have put the team in contention for a podium finish, and that's a better indication of the talent level that returns. It's noteworthy that the 2019 team still registered significant improvement in the 5K from 2018 despite underperforming in their biggest race of the season at that distance.
Another factor that makes me think the Falcons will rise this winter: they are projected to have as many as 5 seniors in their top 7, which should be strong motivation to push for a better finish this time around. Crescenta Valley should be a pack running team this year, with Max Burton, Chris Cubias, and junior Rowan Fitzgerald leading a returning top 5 separated by only 29 seconds. Jack Myers and Bryce Bitetti round out that lead group, although Nolan Brown and Max Ruiz should push for spots in the top 5. Add in a dose of unfinished business coming off that 2019 state meet performance and you can see a formula for a big step forward over this long off season.