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 saw this team coming back in 2019, when they made it to the Division 2 state meet with one sophomore and six freshmen. That group was the 4th-best frosh-soph squad in the state that year, which heralded a long window for the Giants to contend. As we approach the 2021 cross country season, Redwood now ranks 2nd in California in the returning team 5K along with 4th in the returning team 3 mile rankings. Those are extremely impressive numbers, putting this team on par with some of the state's powers. We can even include an 11th-place spot on the returning team 3200 list from track season in the evidence of the team's progression, as Redwood put 6 girls at 12:10 or faster this spring.
The Giants have their top 11 runners back from the 2020-2021 cross country season, and Helena Janku is the only rising senior in the bunch. She has a ton of support in what is shaping up to be one of the state's premier lead packs, as juniors Hailey Connery, Jean Lulu Baker, and Audrey MacLean all led the team at some point this school year; Connery's 5:04 in the 1600 particularly catches the eye. They have reinforcements among the Class of 2023 in Sofia Nogieiro and Tawny Strotz - if Lauren Duncan and Shyla Lensing return to their 2019 form, Redwood will be extremely deep. If even one of those four (or one of their rising sophomores, or a new freshman) makes the leap to contend for a spot in the top 5, this could be the best team in the NCS.
Contending in Division 2 at the state meet is a tall order, though. To be in the top 6 will likely take all 5 scoring runners in the 18's, as the Giants lack a star front-runner that can bring low points at the #1 spot. It can be done, though - look at St. Francis Mountain View (2nd) and El Toro (4th) in the 2019 state meet as models. The ceiling for Redwood is a podium finish in Clovis, and they have the luxury of working in a two-year window to achieve it.