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.
Division 5 is going to be extra competitive this winter, with at least three teams can contend for the state title. With the next few entries in this Watch List, I'm going to focus on those championship caliber teams, starting with San Francisco University.
The Red Devils finished 2nd in Fresno last November and return all seven of their runners from that race. In fact, they have their top 12 from last fall back, a group that includes six current seniors (4 in the top 7). That leadership and experience will be essential this season, as Athena Nooney and Isabella Hochschild anchor University's solid, deep pack: their returning 2 though 8 runners are separated by only 45 seconds. Sophomore Maya Mason paces the Red Devils up front and classmate Alice Sappenfield rounds out the top 5.
To get over the top for a team title this winter, University needs one or two runners to break through and compete for spots in the top 5. That could come from the junior class (there are 4 candidates that contribute to the team's depth), or perhaps from a new freshman. Last year's 9th-graders fueled huge improvement over 2018, pushing the team into the top 10 in the state in my Improvement Ratings metric.
After finishing 8th or better in the last four state meets (including 2nd place twice), the Red Devils will not lack for motivation this season. The competition will be stiff, but University has the talent and depth to contend. D5 is going to be fun to watch this winter!
University (SF) Stats:
* 3 mile times run at Heyward course