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.
--When a school has a breakthrough season, the roots of that "sudden" competitiveness can often be found two or even three seasons prior. Barring several transfers to a previously unknown program, cross country teams don't just become top 10 in the state out of nowhere. Take Midland, who finished 6th in Division 5 last fall after not making the state meet the previous decade (as far back as I looked). The true "breakthrough" for the Oak Trees happened between 2016 and 2017, when they improved their top 5 average by over 3 minutes. That didn't pay off with a state meet berth until last fall, but it marks the beginning of the process that led there.
Now, Midland is poised to be considered among the top D5 squads in the state. They have their top 6 runners from the 2019 state meet returning, including a loaded senior class led by Will and Ziggy Goddard. Another pair of brothers, senior Porter Barnes and junior sibling Rabbit, round out a very strong top 4. There is a gap between that lead group and their returning 5 - 6 runners, and a much bigger gap behind that. The Oak Trees can compete for the Southern Section title with six strong runners, but cultivating more depth would certainly help, both this winter and beyond.
Fortunately, the improvement this program made between 2016 and 2017 was not an anomaly - Midland has improved its top 5 average at least 48 seconds in each of the last 3 seasons. The tiny school also has the most returning runners overall that they've seen in all but one year out of the last decade. All of that suggests the Oak Trees can develop their depth - and with 6 seniors projected to be in their top 7 this winter, that could be an existential issue for the program. In the meantime, the goal is to make the most of a core group that has elevated Midland out of obscurity before they graduate.