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.
What a run of talent Jesuit has had the last few years! Matt Strangio in the Class of 2020, followed by Ajani Salcedo graduating this year - that's two runners going 4:08 or better for the 1600 in back to back graduating classes, an incredible feat. When you factor in Spencer Pickren and Michael Chambers, both in the Class of 2021 and both at 4:17 or faster, you might start to think that the Marauders are going to be set back with the loss of so many fast runners.
The thing is, it's not luck that's putting this talent on the roster - that should be obvious to anybody who has been watching this program for any length of time. Jesuit has top-tier talent because they develop top-tier talent, improving runners steadily from freshman to senior year. That's why there always seems to be another group of strong athletes to fill in the gaps and help the Marauders contend year in and year out. This fall will be no exception.
Going back to 2019, we could see the young potential here: Jesuit had the 5th-best group of freshmen and sophomores in the state that year (using 5K times). That was only reinforced by cross country results from this past winter, where the Marauders rank 4th in California. Despite the difficulties in training and competing over the last 18 months, this group has improved their 5-man average from 16:36 to 16:17, and I can only imagine where that number will be after a strong summer of training. We can even cite solid track numbers for this program: they rank 8th in the state in the returning team 1600 rankings.
Braden King has been driving much of the team's numerical improvement, as the senior has gone from 16:00 to 15:27 and dropped his 1600 time all the way down to 4:16 (not to mention an 8:56 3200!). He will be one of the top individuals in the state overall, but he also has plenty of support. Rising junior Jacob Swanson gives the Marauders another returner who has been solidly under 16 for 5K, and senior Preston Conner is likely to break that barrier this fall. Fellow Class of 2022 members Tyler Offerman, Cameron Cleland, and Joe Ryan form the next group, and they will need to close the gap on their front 3 to maximize Jesuit's prospects this fall.
That's a ton of leadership in the senior class, which helps right now but also necessitates the development of another wave of young talent. Right now, rising sophomore Jonah Reynolds appears to be the only underclass candidate to make the leap into the top 7, so we will need to watch to see how this aspect of the roster develops in the fall. Given Jesuit's history, though, it would be a bad idea to count this program out at any point. Regardless of how they prepare for 2022, though, it's clear that the Marauders have more than enough talent to keep rolling in 2021.