25 Girls Teams to Watch This Fall: Great Oak

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 editor Jeffrey Parenti (email at the bottom of every MileSplitCA page) and we'll make the corrections.

We already addressed the issue of the coaching transition in the boys' article earlier today, so no need to rehash that here. Instead, let's take a deep look into the current state of what has been California's most dominant program over the last decade plus. Here's the fundamental question: was Great Oak's defeat at the 2019 state meet a sign of things to come, or was it just the result of particular circumstances that year? Or, put another way, is the Wolfpack still the team to beat in the Golden State?

Evidence that they are: this is the #1 returning 3 mile team in the state, and ranks 5th for 5K despite not attending the major meets for that distance that they would in a normal season (Clovis Invite, state meet, etc). The Wolfpack also has the #1 returning 5K team using 2019 times, finishing a close 2nd in the 3 mile there. Nearly all of that talent is currently in the junior class, too, giving this squad at least a two-year window to contend. Aishling Fabian and Kelli Gaffney head up the Class of 2023 for Great Oak, and the return of Melinda Dang (who did not compete at all in 2020-2021) would be a huge help. Fellow juniors Kali Kraus and Ameya Teli emerged this past school year, establishing them as clear candidates for the top 5 this fall.

On the other hand, a young team that has only experienced one true cross country season could struggle with a full racing load. Divine Torza is the only senior in the projected top 10, so the leadership will need to come from the juniors if the program is to maintain their accustomed success. Also, times on the track were not as spectacular as we have come to expect from the Wolfpack in the past: only 1 girl (Gaffney) under 5:10, and only 3 under 11:30. That leaves Great Oak ranked 7th in the state for returning team 1600 and 3rd on the returning team 3200 list. Those aren't quite the numbers of a consensus top team in the state, although without a doubt it puts them in the upper echelon.

Of course, all of those potential negatives can be erased with one strong summer, and the talent pool is very far from being dry in Temecula. If the question is whether Greak Oak's girls are going to be in the running for the Southern Section D1 title, there's more than enough data to give an emphatic yes. All of our data shows the same thing: a deep team without a clear star, but with the potential for an impressively tight pack that will be hard to beat. What remains to be seen is whether this squad can recapture the program's dominance and be one of the top 2 teams in the state (and a national power) once again.