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.
In many ways, Francis Parker was ahead of schedule when they went to the 2019 state meet and came away with a 3rd place finish. Get this: the Lancers fielded one junior and no seniors in that race! Returning all seven runners from a podium team is an enormous luxury for any program, and when the bulk of your returning core will be back again in 2021 you have a lot to be excited about.
Junior Kenan Pala leads a very strong top 5 supported by seniors Spencer Seay and Ian Lillie. Behind those three, the team's depth is mostly underclassmen, with junior Jesse Smith and sophomore Quinn Spieker most noteworthy among them. And depth is the key that could elevate the Lancers from D5 title contender to greater heights this winter - if they can get just one breakthrough season, one more top 5 caliber runner, this could be a very special team.
Let me be clear: Francis Parker is not on this list just because they're the favorites to win in Division 5. This squad has a legitimate chance to be the best team in the San Diego Section and should be among the top 20 state-wide, regardless of division. Furthermore, the Lancers are here to stay, as we could be looking at a 2- or 3-year title run.