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.
--Clovis North is a bit of a departure from the normal profile I look for in the preseason, because they were absolutely hammered by graduation last year. The team that won the Central Section and finished 6th in Division 1 in 2019 lost four of their top seven, including individual runner-up Isaiah Galindo. That's why it's remarkable to see the Broncos on top of the returning rankings for the section, and still among the state's top 20.
What really stands out to me about this team is how unusual its composition was last year. How often do you see a boys team with four seniors and three sophomores on its varsity squad? Based on returning times, Clovis North is projected to have 8 juniors in its top 10 this winter (plus a current sophomore at #11). Seniors George Yamashita and Alex Jenkins will be a vital part of the top 7, but it's the Class of 2022 that powers the Broncos right now.
In my experience, male runners can make significant progress between their sophomore and junior seasons. That might be a little muted when the sophomores in question were already running well, but it's still very reasonable to think that this Bronco team might improve more than usual. Current juniors Andrew Cape, Spencer Mueller, and Paean Ocampo join forces with Yamashita to form a potent top four separated by only 16 seconds. The second pack, led by Matthew Oaks and Jenkins, is similarly tight: 16 seconds from 5 - 8. The only problem is the gap between the two packs; if one of their depth runners can make the leap into the top 5 and bridge that gap, this team will be hard to beat.
How many times have we seen a younger team with time to develop arrive earlier than expected? It seems like the reduced pressure of knowing you have two years to reach your full potential can help the runners get there even faster. I think the Broncos are still going to be top 10 in Division 1 this year (with a chance for more) despite losses to graduation. I can't wait to see this team contend for the podium, whether it's now or next fall.
Clovis North Stats:
*3 mile times run at Kingsburg