25 Girls Teams to Watch this Fall: Granada Hills Charter

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.

Cross country wasn't really a thing in the Los Angeles City Section this past year. That means we have to look to one of two sources to get info on the top returning programs there: returning data from 2019, or track times.

Fortunately, both of those reports support the same conclusions: Granada Hills Charter is going to be the team to beat in LA this fall. When we score only the freshmen and sophomores from 2019, the Highlanders come out on top of the section narrowly over Eagle Rock, powered by star Sofia Abrego and strong #2 runner Naima Salazar. Of course, it would be foolish to rely on rankings from 2 years ago; the school will have added 2 more classes of runners since then, so we could never see the true picture of their depth that way (plus a lot can happen, and indeed has happened, since then).

That's why results from this past spring can be so important. In the case of the Highlanders, returning track times are what clearly separate them from the rest of their section. This is the only team in the LACS to record a score in the returning team 3200 rankings, and Granada Hills dominates the sections returning team 1600 rankings as well. Interestingly, they accomplished those rankings largely without their two stars: Abrego saw limited action in the spring and only ran 5:48 for the 1600 (her PR is 4:51 from her freshman year), while Salazar topped out at 5:51 despite extensive racing in her first full track season. Rising sophomore Arden Keeton led the Highlanders in the spring, clocking 5:21 for the 1600.

That brings us to the big "if" for this team: if Abrego and Salazar return to their form of two years ago and young talents like Keeton continue to develop, then this team could dominate the LA City Section. There is plenty of potential depth, with rising senior Isabel Castagnola helping provide leadership while juniors Jocelyn Pacheco and Zaida Velazquez support the front three and fill out the top.

One more question: will all of that be enough to make a splash at the state meet? Even with Abrego providing a low number up front, the Highlanders have struggled to get out of the bottom half of the Division 1 race in Clovis. I can see a high ceiling for this Granada Hills team, but the squad has a lot of work to do over the summer to realize that potential.