25 Girls Teams to Watch this Fall: Rio Americano

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.

In most years, having three returning girls under 20 minutes for 5K wouldn't get you very high in the rankings (or into the pre-season Teams to Watch list). This year being what it is, though, Rio Americano actually finished 6th in California in the returning 5K team rankings, and they defeated perennial SJS power Vista Del Lago soundly in a duel meet in late February. Those facts alone are enough to take a closer look at the Raiders, and the more I look the more I like about this squad.

As much as what they accomplished this past winter is worth recognizing, it's how the Raiders did it that really caught my eye - or rather, who did it. Rio got a massive infusion of talent with three 9th-graders running in their top 7. All three ran between 19:59 and 20:13 - again, not terribly impressive for a normal year, but much better when you consider how their high school career started in shutdown with classes online. I imagine that caused a lot of lost training, and so I have a vision of Josie Parod, Summer Doyle, and Jennifer Merri taking a big step forward together in the fall (and maybe throw Katelyn Barnes in there as well). 

Of course, it also helps when your #1 runner goes 17:51 like rising junior Olivia Schlieman did this past winter (and considering that she topped out at 19:01 her freshman year, it's not hard to imagine the current crop of rising sophomores improving significantly). She was supported by rising senior Kaylee Barnes and fellow Class of 2023 member Meredith Montgomery this spring (which means Rio will return 5 of their top 6 for 2022 as well). Montgomery may also be a candidate to make the leap, given that this was her first season running the full 5K with the varsity team.

That brings me to my one big concern with the Raiders: depth. After that top 6, there is an almost 2-minute drop-off to the returning 7th runner, and they only had a total of 9 returners record results this winter. Track results (in the 1600) look better in terms of the number of runners competing, but don't show any obvious candidates to compete for varsity spots. Cultivating a few more top 7 caliber athletes has to be a top priority for Rio this summer. With or without reinforcements, though, there is enough talent for this team to contend in the SJS, although they have work to do before they can hope to make a splash at the state meet.