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.
--If there is a threat to the supremacy of St. Francis in the Sac Joaquin Section, it will likely come from Oak Ridge. The Trojans won the SJS Division 1 title in 2019, then closed with a 9th-place finish at the state meet. That might seem a little low for a team to be considered a contender in 2020, but Oak Ridge only had one senior in that race. It seems as though an infusion of young talent helped this team improve from finishes outside the top 10 the prior 2 seasons.
How young was that 2019 squad? The Trojans still only have 2 seniors projected to be in their top 7 this winter, supported by three juniors and two sophomores. In theory, Oak Ridge might not hit their full potential until next year, but they should have a chance to be top 5 in Division 1 this season. More importantly for this school year, the Trojans don't need to make a huge leap forward - all they need is continued improvement plus one runner to break through individually, and this team is set to be better than in 2019.
Ava Maier and Abigail Fletcher are interchangeable as the #1 co-runners on this team. Fletcher is joined in the Class of 2021 by Tiana Oliver, while Meier leads fellow juniors Kayla Rutz and Dylan Wright. Quinn Walker is the top sophomore, and her development into a top 5 runner would boost the team tremendously. The one major hurdle for Oak Ridge will be the talent gap after the returning top 6; if they can't cultivate a few new top 7 caliber runners, depth could be their undoing. Still, the potential is there for two straight years in the top 5 of Division 1, so the Trojans definitely bear watching.