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.
It's no secret that having an elite #1 runner can help the whole team succeed. For Simi Valley, the first two years of Jill Walker's high school career were frustrating from a team standpoint, although Walker excelled individually. The breakthrough finally came in 2019 as the Pioneers made it to the state meet and finished 8th in the Division 2 race.
With 6 of 7 back from that state meet squad and a change to Division 3, Simi Valley is suddenly a legitimate state championship contender. Walker should be in the top 4 individually, with fellow senior Lynette Ruiz helping to anchor the pack supporting her. Sophomore #2 runner Julia Kiesler has already shown significant improvement this year, posting a PR of 18:31 at Desert Twilight this fall. Junior Lexi Darley rounds out an impressive top 4, but behind that group depth could be an issue.
Normally I would use Improvement Ratings to get a feel for how well a team like this. In the case of the Pioneers, a disastrous 2018 season skews their 3-year data and leaves them with a lower rating than they deserve. In three of the last 4 years, however, Simi Valley has posted enormous season-to-season progress, which gives me hope that their depth issues will be solved by March. They need one more top 5 caliber runner and a stronger 5-6-7 overall to have the best chance of winning a D3 title this winter.