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.
--Sometimes things just don't come together the way a team wants them to. Such was the case for Vista Murrieta's girls in 2019, as they were never quite able to replace three seniors graduated off their 2018 team that almost defeated Great Oak for the Division 1 title. Injuries appeared to play a role, as they often do in this sport, causing a few returning runners to fall short of their times from the previous season.
Despite not quite reaching their full potential, though, the Broncos still pulled out a 6th place finish in the D1 state meet, which indicates the baseline talent on that squad. Vista Murrieta had 2 seniors in their top seven in Clovis last November, but they have more than enough returning talent to improve on their 2019 results. The question is, can they reach back to the heights they achieved in 2018?
It's not out of the question, especially if Devyn Candaele is back up to full speed. She and Aniya Pretlow are set to form a potent 1-2 punch up front, with Emily Bourque and Isabella Smith not far behind them. After that comes a gap in their returning times that needs to be closed with the development of the rest of the Bronco top 7. The good news is, there are several candidates to step up and challenge for those varsity spots.
Prior to 2019, Vista Murrieta had been posting strong year-to-year Improvement Ratings for the previous three years. I think this team is set to rebound from a difficult season, and with a loaded junior class on board the Broncos could be looking at a 2-year window to get back on the podium at the state meet.