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.
Last year was a tough one for the North Coast girls teams in Division 2 - they finished 14th, 17th, 19th, and 21st at the state meet. Sorting through all of that, though, you can see a diamond in the rough in the form of the Redwood (NC) girls. The giants moved up from Division 3, where they finished 17th in 2018, and then duplicated that result in the toughest girls' division with no juniors or seniors on the squad. What's more, this team rose to the occasion in Clovis by defeating two NCS foes that were ahead of them the week before. This is the 10th-best returning group, regardless of division, from last year's state championship meet.
Junior Helena Janku and sophomore Audrey MacLean lead the way, supported by a solid pack that forms a potent top 6. Lauren Duncan, Shyla Lensing, Jean Lulu Baker, and Hailey Connery were all within a minute of Janku last fall. Beyond that, though, depth is a serious concern. On the other hand, Redwood has had at least one freshman make the varsity team in each of the last three seasons. Their ceiling for this winter will be determined by the development of one or two new top 7 runners, which could propel this team from top 10 to potential top 5 in D2.
As much as this year's Redwood team has potential, there is plenty of time to develop patiently. The Giants will have their entire top 10 back for 2021, and five of their projected top 8 right now are sophomores. With the addition of even one varsity caliber athlete each year, we could be looking at a three-year stretch of high finishes!
*3 mile times run at Heyward course