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.
Our string of Division 5 title contenders has brought us back to the Southern Section, where St. Margaret's Episcopal is the power among the smallest class of schools. The Tartans dominated at the 2019 CIF-SS finals, then finished 3rd at the state meet behind the previous two schools on our watch list.
I'm always impressed when a school with such a small overall pool of students to draw from can annually replace departed seniors - that's the sign of an excellent program. In the case of St. Margaret's, no less than three of their top 7 from last year's state meet are gone, and yet there is plenty of talent returning to put the team right back in contention. Their Improvement Rating over the last 3 years bears that out: using 3 mile data, you can make the case that this is the best program in the state, relative to school size, at year-to-year progression.
Sophomore Liesel Blau would be considered an individual title contender in almost any year and most divisions, but she will have to make a big step forward to catch up to Harper McClain. That would be a personal victory, but it would make very little difference for the team - the Tartans just need her to keep delivering low numbers up front. The success of this team will depend on the development of their returning 2-7 runners. They are separated by only a minute but need to improve as a group to give St. Margaret's a real shot at winning this winter. Seniors Madeleine Arundale and Claire Mullen lead that pack, with juniors Amelia Kang and Molly Allison right behind them.
That brings us to what may be the most important question regarding St. Margaret's: what do they have in the youth pipeline? This team seems to add strong freshmen every season, and if they can discover or develop one this winter, it could make all the difference. One thing is certain: with as many as 4 seniors in their projected top 7, the Tartans should be focused on the present and the potential for a state title this year.