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 is it about Lowell that allows them to achieve success in a way that no other San Francisco Section team can? Is it Coach Andy Leong that drives the program, or the culture of the team and school? Whatever the formula, it's hard to imagine a single team dominating even one of the smallest sections this consistently for this long.
It certainly doesn't appear that the Cardinals are going to be abdicating the throne anytime soon. Despite the lack of any cross country season in the 2020-2021 school year, all we have to do is look back to 2019: Lowell had 7 freshmen or sophomores that ran 18:32 or faster for 5K that are theoretically still in the program. That was good enough to rank them 35th in the state in the frosh-soph rankings that year, a solid result for a smaller program in one of the smallest sections in California.
That group includes rising seniors Oliver Witt, Benjamin Lester, and Paolo Canigula, who were 1-2-3 for the frosh-soph team two years ago and remained 1-2-3 in the same order on the track this past spring. This was the only school in San Francisco to even register a returning team 1600 ranking, as none of their in-city rivals had even 5 returners post a time.
Witt ran 16:14 in 2019 and hasn't been given a chance to improve on that mark in the time since; you can only guess how hungry he must be to run down in the mid-15's. It's encouraging that he set new PR's in both the 1600 and the 3200 this spring, albeit in only his second track season. It's even more encouraging to see Lester only 6 seconds back in the 1600, with Canigula another 5 behind him. If they can run together on the course this fall, that will make for a very potent top 3.
Factoring junior Bruno Bartalos and a solid group of rising sophomores into the equation, we start to get a picture of another deep Lowell team, although time will tell if this squad can rival some of their best sevens from past seasons. They will need to progress significantly over the summer to have an impact in the Division 4 race at the state meet, as this team is (through no fault of its own) behind where the 2019 squad was at this point of the year. Having said that, just about everybody in the state has been set back by the pandemic, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see them match their 8th-place finish from that season.