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.
After 3 consecutive Division 3 titles, Claremont slipped to 7th place last fall - which is still an excellent showing in the most competitive division in the state, but hurts nonetheless. Getting back into the top 5 will be quite a challenge for the Wolfpack, having lost 3 of their top 7 (and 4 of the top 8) from their 2019 squad.
Junior Maddie Coles and senior Angie Gushue lead the way up front, but after them Claremont has quite a substantial drop-off to the rest of the returners. That next group forms an impressive pack in terms of closeness and depth, but they definitely need to close up on their front two to remain competitive this winter. Gabriella Cerrillos, Peyton Cruz, and Maisie Zurbuch all posted encouraging 3200 times in the aborted outdoor season, which could be a sign that the gap is closing.
I'm not sure there is another team in this watch list that has a higher variance in this offseason than the Wolfpack. With as many as four current seniors projected to be in the top 7 this year, leading to a second straight big graduation loss, it's possible Claremont will settle in as a perennial top 10 team now. On the other hand, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see them develop young talent over the extended training season and rebound strongly. That wide differential in possible outcomes is what intrigues me about the Wolfpack this year.