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.
--I always want data to be the foundation of my predictions, which has made this year's search for teams to watch more challenging than usual. Fortunately, we do have a little bit of recent information on some teams and runners from out of state cross country meets they attended this fall. Without that, I would have no clue about the improvement of a squad like Mira Costa.
The Mustangs got absolutely hammered by graduation, losing 5 of their top 9 runners from 2019, including their top 2. Coming into this school year, they didn't have a returning 5K time under 16 minutes, and the PR's of most of their runners were posted on extremely fast courses. All of that applies to a team that didn't make it to the state meet after finishing 10th in the Southern Section finals last fall. Although there was a good reason for struggling in the CIF-SS D1 race (they were missing a top 3 runner), that's not exactly the resume for a contender.
And yet, Mira Costa performed very well at Desert Twilight in October, hanging with West Torrance and demonstrating significant improvement. Returning #1 runner Cormac Carew posted a huge PR of 15:19, with Colin Beale just behind at 15:23. Seamus O'Meara also made significant strides over last year, and the runners that didn't post PR's showed they were at least starting from where they left off at the end of the 2019 season.
There is still a lot of work for the Mustangs to do to be competitive in the Southern Section this fall to shore up their depth and try to fill the gap between their top 2 and the rest of the varsity. Given the progress I've seen so far, though, I have no trouble naming them a sleeper that could come from off the radar to surprise some people.