(From left) Mia Barnett, Dalia Frias and Sydney Sundgren are top girls to watch by class for SoCal and the Central Section heading into the 2020-21 winter XC season. (Photos by DeAnna Turner and Patrick Corsinita)
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Now that the stay at home order has been lifted in California, the prospects of a cross country season are very real, and in some sections of the state, already underway.
Based on the success of many individual girls as well as some outstanding teams last season, Southern California is loaded with talented girls. We've coupled Central Section into this SoCal list of 10 top girls to watch on this winter season. We've expanded this article to list girls by grade, sophomore through senior. As with every season, freshmen girls will make a definite impact but for now, we will stick to the returning runners.
(From left) Allura Markow, Erica Nyberg and Kelli Gaffney are among the state's elite sophomores.
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10. Brianne Smith (Quartz Hill/SS) -- No. 2 freshman behind Kelli Gaffney at the Southern Section Division 1 race, placing ninth at the 2019 finals. She followed that up by running her 5K PR of 18:07.30 in placing 18th at the State Meet.
9. MacKenzie Browne (North/SS) -- Highlighted her freshman year with a nine-second victory in the Division 2 race at the Southern Section Championships with the fastest time in the merge on the 3-mile Riverside Championship Course, 16:53.70.
8 . Grace Hutchison (Buchanan/CS) -- Among a strong class of 2023s instrumental in Buchanan's victory over Great Oak at the 2019 CIF-State Championships, placing 14th in the race as the Bears' No. 3 scorer. She did that a week after running No. 7 for the Bears at the CS Final. Her 18:02.90 on the Woodward Park 5K layout at State was a significant PR drop.
7. Taylor Jones (Arroyo Grande/CS) -- Seven of the top 15 across the line in the Division I race at the 2019 State Championships were girls in the class of 2023. Jones, less than three seconds behind Grace Hutchison at State, was fourth in the D-1 race at the CS Finals and the No. 3 freshman behind only Sydney Sundgren and Erica Nyberg.
6. Hannah Riggins (Del Norte/SD) -- Riggins was third in the D-1 race at the San Diego Section Finals and 13th at State and the No. 5 freshman in that race. Her time ranked 26th in the meet merge and No. 7 among frosh girls.
5. Liesel Blau (St. Margaret's/SS) -- Capped her stellar freshman season with a third-place finish in the Division V race at the 2019 State Meet. Her time of 18:00.00 ranked 25th in the merge among returners, No. 6 in the class and No. 3 among SoCal girls in the class. Placed second at the SS final behind three-time champion Mia Barnett while leading St. Margaret's to the team title.
4. Allura Markow (Dana Hills/SS) -- Placed eighth in the Division 2 race at the State Meet in 17:51.20, the No. 3 time at the meet in the freshman class and No. 2 time among girls on the list behind only Sydney Sundgren. This came a week after placing 12th in the section final as the No. 2 freshman in that race behind MacKenzie Browne.
3. Erica Nyberg (Clovis East/CS) -- First team all-MileSplitCA Freshman selection from the 2019 season, where she placed seventh in the Division I race at the State Meet and dropped the No. 4 time among all girls in the class of 2023. In a who's-who of CS girls in the this article, consider that Nyberg was the runner-up to champion Corie Smith at the 2019 CS Division 1 championship race, ahead of Sundgren, Jones and Perez.
2. Kelli Gaffney (Great Oak/SS) -- Placed 12th in the D-I race at the 2019 State Meet and the No. 2 scorer for the team runner-up. She is one of only five frosh girls to run sub-18 at the 2019 State Meet. She placed seventh and ran No. 3 as Great Oak won an eighth consecutive Southern Section D-1 title.
1. Sydney Sundgren (Buchanan/CS) -- Newcomer in 2019 made a huge impact on a Buchanan team that went on to defeat Great Oak for the Division I title at State. Sundgren was sixth overall (17:45.70). She also ran No. 2 as Buchanan won the CS title.
(From left) Emma Hadley, Miliana Perez and Stormy Wallace are among the state's elite juniors.
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10. Isabella Duarte (Saugus/SS) -- A week after placing seventh at the Section final, Duarte responded with a 5K PR of 18:06.70 on the Woodward Park course at the State Meet. She placed 17th in the Division I race as the No. 3 sophomore to finish in that field.
9. Daniela Quintero (Harvard Westlake/SS) -- Southern Section Division 4 champion and State Meet runner-up as a freshman in 2018, Quintero did not compete on the high school circuit in 2019.
8. Maddie Coles (Claremont/SS) -- Southern Section Division 2 champion as a freshman in 2018 and State Meet runner-up. She won three races as a sophomore -- including running her 3-mile PR -- placed seventh in the Section final and 22nd at State.
7. Navaya Zales (Mt. Carmel/SD) -- Runner-up in the Division 2 race at the SDS Finals, Zales placed 15th at the State Meet in 18:04.30. Her time ranks 28th among all returners, No. 9 among all returners in the junior class and No. 5 among SoCal juniors.
6. Sam McDonnell (Newbury Park/SS) -- McDonnell emerged as the star of the Panthers lineup during the group's fall club competition out of state. Newbury Park isn't expected to compete in XC this winter, but if they did, McDonnell's progress in that revered program would be worth tracking.
5. Tiani Goeson (Serrano/SS) -- She followed up a fourth-place finish in the Division 2 race at the Southern Section Championships with a 13th-place finish at the State Meet. Her time ranks 24th among all returners from State and No. 8 among all juniors from that meet.
4. Emma Hadley (Anaheim Canyon/SS) -- She rebounded from a 14th-place finish at Sections to a 10th-place crossing in the Division II race at State. Her time of 17:56.70, an eight-second improvement from 2018 when she placed ninth on the Woodward Park 5K course. That time ranks seventh among all junior girls statewide and No. 3 among juniors in the Southern Secton.
3. Miliana Perez (Clovis North/CS) -- Perez is the No. 5 returner in the junior class from the 2019 CIF-State Meet where she placed seventh in the Division I race with the No. 12 time among all returners. After placing fifth at the CS Final, she rolled to a 17:49.00 at State, a PR for the Woodward Park 5K layout.
2. Stormy Wallace (Sage Creek/SD) -- She had already been on two Section and State championship teams before the end of her sophomore season on a team led by her sister Skyler. The elder Wallace is now off at NAU and Stormy emerged fit during fall club races.
1. Dalia Frias (Mira Costa/SS) -- Frias is the No. 1 returning SoCal girl in the class from the State Meet and ranks near the top of the class statewide for 5K, 3 miles and combination times. She ended 2019 placing second at Sections, third at State, and then qualifying to run at the Foot Locker National Championship race.
(From left) Amber Rios, Audrey Suarez and Brooke Secreto are among the state's elite seniors.
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10. Angie Gushue (Claremont/SS) -- Gushue ran her 5K PR of 18:10.40 in placing 20th in the D-II race at State as Claremont's No. 1 runner. That time ranks sevenths among returning SS seniors. She had the No. 7 time in the merge of returning runners from the SS championships while helping her team to second place behind Newbury Park. Headed to Claremont McKenna.
9. Brianna Weidler (Great Oak/SS) -- Weidler is a rare senior on a young Great Oak team. Limited by injury in 2019, this UC Davis recruit gave us a glimpse of what's possible with a solid showing at the Desert Twilight XC Festival in October.
8. Siena Palicke (Yorba Linda/SS) -- UCLA recruit was third at the 2019 Section D-3 Finals and is the top returner for 2020-21. She placed fourth at the State Meet and is the No. 3 returner from that race. Palicke got in three out-of-state races during the fall and finished no lower than ninth.
7. Fiona Hawkins (Newbury Park/SS) -- Newbury Park went out of state during the fall to get in its cross country season and isn't expected to compete this winter. Hawkins was a major reason the Panthers won the CIF-SS Division 2 and CIF-State D-II titles in 2019.
6. Jill Walker (Simi Valley/SS) -- This University of New Hampshire recruit placed sixth at the 2019 Section final and seventh at State while competing in D-II. Simi Valley drops down a division for 2020-21, which likely will only be scored on paper and not on the course.
5. Bella Longo (Mission Vista/SD) -- Two-time San Diego Section champion placed third at State in Division III in 2019 a year after placing fourth. The Colorado recruit is the No. 5 overall returner in the class from State after running the No. 11 time in the merge (17:46.80).
4. Amber Rios (Colony/SS) -- Rios is the No. 2 returner in the senior class from the Southern Section and No. 3 overall. The UC Irvine recruit placed second at the Southern Section Finals in 2019 and followed that a week later with a runner-up finish in the D-II race at State behind champion Alexandra Klos.
3. Audrey Suarez (Mayfield/SS) -- Stanford-bound Suarez has Southern Section and State Meet titles in cross country and is a two-time State Meet medalist on the track for 1600m). She place third at State in 2019 after winning the CIF-SS D-4 title. As a sophomore, she placed second at Sections and won at State. As a frosh she was runner-up at Sections and placed third at State.
2. Brooke Secreto (Foothill Tech/SS) -- Secreto and Suarez swapped results at the end of the 2019 season Secreto placed second at the Southern Section D-4 race to Suarez but then ran away from the competition to win the State Meet D-IV crown. Headed to Sacramento State.
1. Mia Barnett (Crescenta Valley/SS) -- Three-time Southern Section Division 5 champion, two-time CIF-State D-V runner-up, Foot Locker West Regional champion in 2019. Virginia-bound distance star in XC and on the track (two-time State Meet medalist on the track for 1600m) transferred from Village Christian (SS) mid-year as a junior but has not been able to compete for the Falcons to this point.
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Note: Elizabeth Emberger (Canyon Crest/SD), the No. 14 returner from the overall merge from the 2019 State Meet and the state's No. 7 returner among seniors, has graduated early and will not compete.
Photos by DeAnna Turner and Patrick Corsinita