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.
--There is a term in the field of sports predictions called "high variance," and I feel like it describes this year's Sage Creek girls team. Few top flight California programs have gone through as much change in the last year as the Bobcats, who lost their coach and three standout seniors from last year's Division 4 championship squad.
One early sign that things will be just fine this year: returning #1 runner Stormy Wallace clocked a new PR of 17:17 at Desert Twilight (and has since run under her old PR a second time). That will certainly put her in contention for the individual title this winter, and that low stick helps the team reload for another title attempt.
Another cause for optimism: Sage Creek returns five sub-20 5K runners (and 2 more under 21), which is remarkable depth for a small school that lost such a strong graduating class. Sophomore Malia Leupold (9th in the state meet) backs up her star teammate as the strong #2 runner, and senior Katya Sumwalt heads a solid pack behind them.
There is quite a gap in returning times behind the top 2, however, which will need to be addressed if this team is to reach its potential this year. The extra-long off season could turn out to be a blessing for this program, giving them more time to adjust to new coach Bob Muschek and develop their young talent. That brings us to the final reason why I'm high on this team: Sage Creek has been the #1 team in California for year-to-year improvement over the last 3 seasons. The Bobcast improved an astounding 49 seconds on their top 5 average from 2018 to 2019 despite already having a highly-trained, successful group. Part of that was the addition of a then-freshman talent like Leupold, and I expect one more top 7 runner to join the program.
If things don't quite come together this season, it will be OK: the Bobcats are loaded with juniors and sophomores this year, and may not reach their peak as a team until 2021 anyway. Wallace and Malia Leupold are the top non-junior returners in the division state-wide, and Sage Creek started with a big lead on the rest of the D4 field after their dominating performance in 2019. This is still the best team in the division and the favorite to repeat at the state meet, and next year they may be just as good as their record-setting group last fall. Sage Creek isn't going anywhere, folks.