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.
Sometimes it's hard to pick the top San Diego Section teams out of state-wide rankings, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, they run three miles, but they tend to run on much tougher courses than the Southern Section (especially the section championship at Balboa Park), and therefore the SDS teams get a little buried in the overall lists. This is especially true in a season without major invitationals on lightning fast courses nearby (*cough Woodbridge cough*). Second, there is often quite a bit of parity in the section, with the top teams grading out very close to each other in returning rankings, with small differences that make it difficult to project clear favorites.
That's why I was surprised at how much Mt. Carmel stood out when I looked back at data from this year. The Sundevils come in 13th in the returning team 3 mile rankings from this past winter, behind a slew of Southern Section teams as expected - but a whopping 44 places ahead of the next best team in the section. You can see the same effect in the track rankings, although to a lesser degree: Mt. Carmel outranks the next-best returning 3200 team in San Diego by 12 places and has a 10-place advantage in the returning team 3200.
If you drill down into this team a bit, you can see the foundation for these numbers as far back as 2019. Although they don't rank well in the state due to the difficulty of the course, the Sundevils ran three sophomores and a freshman in the SDS finals that year. Rising senior Owen Conner led that group two years ago, and he led Mt. Carmel's squad this past winter with a 15:37, then followed with a 9:51 3200 in the spring. Junior-to-be Tom Bell, close behind Conner in 2019 and the 2021 XC season, pulled ahead in the 3200 with his 9:43.
This team is fairly deep, too - they had a 33 second 1-5 split in the winter and return 8 runners at 16:38 or better for 3 miles. With brothers Max and Beck Schemenauer reinforcing the senior class while AJ Santos and Derek Shi bolster the juniors, there should be plenty of leadership and experience on this squad. I think this is the best team in the San Diego Section coming into the summer, but I also feel like they may be one more top 5 runner away from being contenders at the state level.