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.
--Sometimes it's hard to get a fix on the top teams in the Bay Area. They don't run 5K's that would allow comparison with the Central and Sac Joaquin Sections, and the 3 mile courses in the NCS and CCS are much tougher than many of the lightning fast Southern Section venues. So, you end up having to really drill down into the data to determine if a team is legit or not, and comparing against other teams from the same section is often your best bet.
If you look at returning rankings, you could be forgiven for thinking Granada is a step behind the two North Coast teams I profiled already this week. The Matadors rank 22nd in the state for returning 5K...but that's almost entirely based on a state meet where they didn't seem to run their best, finishing 14th. They rank 19th using returning 3 mile times...but those marks came exclusively at Heyward, which is no SilverLakes course, to be sure.
In fact, if you zero in on those 3 mile times, that 19th place ranking starts to look more impressive. This is the best returning 3 mile team in the North Coast Section, even though they rank behind Redwood and Dougherty Valley in the 5K (due to the aforementioned state meet performance). Granada is also very deep, returning 8 of their top 9 from 2019, including their top 3. Shae Hill leads a varsity squad that also includes fellow seniors Amaiah Mcintosh and Shayleen Araya, while the rest of the top 7 is composed of juniors. If the Matadors can get one of their 5 - 7 runners to improve enough to stick with the front 4, this team will be better than they were last fall.
Granada has finished in the top 6 at the state meet 3 of the last 5 years, and they're just one new top 7 runner away from getting back there. Which is why their 3200 time trial results from late October are so interesting: it would appear that they had three freshmen run under 11:40, as fast as any of the returning veterans ran in the pandemic-shortened track season. With Hill and junior Elizabeth Melcher providing plenty of front-running firepower, the Matadors don't need those newcomers to be stars - just competing for varsity spots could be enough to elevate the entire group and return the team to podium contention.