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. Despite the continued bad news regarding California high school sports, I choose to remain optimistic that we will have a season, and I will keep looking for teams that will have an impact within their section.
University Preparatory School has one of the most interesting teams I've ever profiled. The Panthers have won 4 consecutive Northern Section Division 4 titles, but least year they did it with only 5 runners on the team (not the varsity, the whole team). Just keeping 5 girls healthy and racing well for a full season is a remarkable coaching accomplishment, let alone winning your section's division championship.
Needless to say, lack of depth is a glaring issue for the Panthers. They do return all five of their runners from 2019, and those five are good enough to be in the conversation for best team in the CIF-NS overall, regardless of division. Grace Gaddy and Becca Gaido went 1-2 in the section final last fall, which helps overcome the fact that the rest of their top 5 is pretty spread out. Gaido is a junior this year, but the rest of the team's runners are all seniors, which adds an extra layer of urgency to the development of young talent.
This year, University Prep will be in Division 5, which puts them in position for a 5th straight section title if they can stay healthy again. Beyond this winter, though, the future is completely opaque, and until we have some race results we won't really be able to evaluate the team.