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.
--I always like to spot potential breakthrough teams, and I think there may be as many as three among the North Coast girls programs. Let's start with Dougherty Valley, a school that has been improving steadily over the last three years: 21st in Division 1 in 2017, 17th in 2018, and 11th in 2019, making big steps forward from their returning top 5 average each year.
The big key for this season is the composition of last fall's squad. After fielding three sophomores and four juniors in Clovis, the Wildcats have their entire top 7 back with great experience (top 8 if you look at 3 mile season bests). That makes Dougherty Valley the #7 returning D1 team in the state, and with their recent track record of year-to-year improvement I think they have a chance to be top 5 this winter.
This is also a very balanced team with solid depth. Sophomores Rhea Braganza, Eva Shen, and Kirsten Chan ran 1-2-3 for the Wildcats at the 2019 state meet, all within 5 seconds of each other. Juniors Leah Abraham and Ritika Singh were a scant 10 seconds back, leading to a miniscule 15-second 1-5 split. That's arguably California's tightest pack, and it will make this team hard to beat.
Two things need to happen for Dougherty Valley to bridge the gap between them and the top 6 returning programs in the division. First, the team needs to continue their very consistent improvement - they have gained roughly 40 seconds on their returning top 5 average time each of the last 3 seasons. Second, they need to cultivate some depth. Relying on a fixed top 5 to perform all season is dicey, so injecting one or two more runners into that pack will be key. Keep your eye on Sameen Andar, who showed potential last fall and then led the team in their opening 1600 in the abbreviated spring season.
Even if Dougherty Valley isn't able to make the leap into podium contention, this is a top 10 team in Division 1, which means the Wildcats are on track to be one of the best in the state. If everything comes together this winter, the ceiling is very high for this squad.
Dougherty Valley Stats:
*3 mile times run at Heyward course