It's time to get fired up for cross country! Our traditional XC countdown is back, although it will look a little different this time around - we just don't have as much quality data to approach it the way we have in the past. Instead, we will look at 25 boys and girls teams that we think will have an impact this fall in their section, in their division at the state meet, or even nationally. Unlike past countdowns, this year we're going to start with the clear contenders and then work toward some programs that might not be on your radar screen. As always, if you catch an error or have updated information for us, email webmaster Jeffrey Parenti (email at the bottom of every MileSplitCA page) and we'll make the corrections.
Let's start this series with what seems like the most obvious question, to me at least: how will the Wolfpack handle their coaching transition? The perennial powerhouse is under the leadership of Tammy Draughon starting this summer. Coaching changes happen all the time in sports with a wide range of outcomes, but Great Oak is in an enviable position - rather than building a contender from scratch or from the ashes of past failures, they can focus on maintaining the things that have already made for a great program.
There are several reasons why I think this Wolfpack team can keep rolling along fairly seamlessly. First and foremost, the biggest key to success is having talent, and Great Oak has it in abundance. Using 2020-2021 times, this squad is ranked 3rd in the state for returning 5000 meter times and 1st for 3 miles; if you go back 2 years, they have the #2 group of young 3 milers and #1 when you look at the 5K. Furthermore, Great Oak has a fantastic young core: they rank 1st at both distances when you look at just last year's freshmen and sophomores. Finally, the Wolfpack had a strong spring season, which is always an indication of year-round strength: they graded out third in returning team 1600 rankings and second for the 3200. Having such a large team and deep, well-developed talent base certainly helps any major transition go more smoothly.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Coach Draughon is not in this alone. She takes the reins of a team that already knows the value of discipline, effort, and mutual support. With seniors like Nathan Lennox, Carson and Cameron Smith, Jaxon Kaeller, and Brandon Wilk (and more) that have been through both the intense fire of a normal cross country season and the long, slow burn of training through the pandemic, there is plenty of student leadership here to instill the correct values in up-and-coming runners. Mark Cortes and Ramses Cortes lead a fierce junior class that also includes Nick Gaffney (all three of those runners at 9:35 or better this spring) and David Kankowski. All told, there are six returning sub-15 3 milers here! Another excellent positive omen: as of the writing of this article, we are not aware of anyone transferring out of the program, which is always a fear when you have a coaching change.
Given those factors, I am confident that this is still the team to beat in the Southern Section D1 race and a top contender for the state title in the division as well. The Wolfpack is not THE power in California anymore (a shift that happened before the coaching change, I might add), but they are still very much in the conversation about the top programs in the Golden State, and I don't see that changing this year.