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.
Yesterday we discussed the program that has set the standard for California cross country since 2010. Today, we're taking a close look at the only two squads that have matched - and even exceeded - that standard.
Regardless of how Great Oak handles their coaching transition, it may not be possible for anyone to beat the boys from Newbury Park this year. Having already caught and narrowly passed the Wolfpack as the top boys program in the state in the 2019 season, the Panthers have continued to churn out top-ranked runners ever since, and they show no signs of slowing down in 2021.
Newbury Park has the #1 returning 5K team and #3 returning 3 mile team in California despite running very few cross country races during the 2020-2021 school year. They also top the list of returning 3 mile teams from the 2019 season (counting only freshmen and sophomores from that year). However, cross country data doesn't even come close to showing the whole picture, as Newbury Park opted to focus on track in the spring semester. That focus paid off with some absolutely spectacular stats: the Panthers put four returning runners under 8:57 for the 3200. averaging a stunning 8:55.92 across their top 5 runners. They also rank first in the returning team 1600 rankings, with six guys at 4:17 or faster and a top 5 average of 4:10.25!
Of course, it all starts with the Sahlman and Young brothers up front. Colin Sahlman tore up the track this spring to the tune of 8:43 and 4:03, with Lex Young also posting an 8:43 to go with his 4:12. Aaron Sahlman clocked 4:08 for the 1600, and Leo Young posted marks of 4:10 and 8:55. All four of them are back for 2021, but what's even scarier is that Aaron, Leo, and Lex are all juniors this coming school year. They will be joined in an incredible Class of 2023 by Aaron Cantu and Hector Martinez, while Daniel Appleford (8:56 this spring) is the only other senior in the Panthers' projected top 7 this fall. Watch out for Dev Doshi and Westlake transfer Nathan Porter as rising sophomores that could provide solid depth as they challenge for the top 10 this fall.
For all these reasons, the Panthers enter the fall season as the top team in the state overall, let alone in Division 2. Newbury Park already has a national championship under their program's belt from 2019, and this team clearly has the same potential.