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.
This season may be the biggest challenge the Chico boys have faced during their current Northern Section title streak (which stands at 4 straight thus far). The Panthers only have 5 returning runners in our system that competed at a full 3 miles or 5K last fall (JV races in the NS finals are shorter). Their ability to develop younger runners will be tested this fall - and there are three current seniors among that returning 5 varsity runners, which means a second straight major loss to graduation is coming later this year.
Thankfully, the Panthers' junior class is loaded, starting with #1 runner Mario Giannini. Benjamin Wun heads up a deep group of varsity contenders from the Class of 2022 that will try to bolster the top 7 this winter. Seniors Liam Sehorn and Jack Hervey should be in the top 4, providing experience and leadership for a team that has been competitive in Division 3 the last two years. Can they push the team to the next level and secure a top 5 finish this time?
Chico has already proven to be able to make significant improvement from season to season, so while it's hard to evaluate their depth based on varying course distances, I have faith that they will fill out their varsity squad with solid runners. That will be necessary, because there is a significant drop-off behind their front four. With Shasta and Pleasant Valley both returning good young cores, Chico will have to have a strong off season to earn a 5th consecutive section championship.