25 Boys Teams to Watch This Fall: Francis Parker

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.

The boys' competition in Division 5 is shaping up to be just as fierce as the girls', and possibly even more so: I could see at least 4 teams contending for the state championship. What stands out about Francis Parker, for me at least, is the unusually high level of experience their upcoming fall squad has. That's because the Lancers took five freshmen or sophomores to the 2019 state meet, where they finished 3rd as a team. That puts them in the top spot of the frosh-soph rankings from that year by a pretty solid margin, and it gives the team a leg up on the competition coming into cross country season.

Kenan Pala led the team in 2019 and continued to lead in the 2020-2021 school year, posting PR's in the 5K (15:14), the 3200 (9:02.92), and the 1600 (4:20.77). The rising senior will be one of the best runners in the state this fall regardless of division, and is probably the favorite to win the D5 individual title. His low points will matter for Francis Parker, because they didn't show a lot of depth in the winter or spring. The Lancers had the 3rd-best returning team 5K ranking in the division, within striking range of the top 2, and it was their 4th and 5th runners that set them back. Was that because of the pandemic and the disrupted seasons, or is it a sign that the wave of talent that began in 2019 may already be running its course?

The information we have doesn't give us a clear answer, just pieces of the puzzle. The Lancers finished 2nd in the unofficial SoCal D5 Championship in March, losing to fellow 2021 contender Santa Fe Christian (who topped those returning team 5K rankings). On the other hand, Francis Parker dominated the JV race there to bolster their returning strength. To complicate matters further, the Lancers had a very limited track season, with only 4 returners recording 1600 and 3200 times.

So it comes down to this: can Francis Parker reassemble the core group that raced together at the state meet two years ago? That would mean a return to form for juniors John Valverde and Quinn Spieker; the former focused on the 400 in the spring and the latter raced only once since that 2019 cross country season, while fellow junior Sean Bohne posted PR's in the 1600 and 3200 to show his progress. Rising senior Jesse Smith proved he was still a top 3 runner for the Lancers during the winter, then didn't race in the spring. Rising sophomores Zane Lipsky and York Bourgeois could really help by challenging for top 5 spots in the fall.

Piecing that together we see a potential top 7, but beyond that the XC times fall off fast, and there is absolutely zero track data. Francis Parker is going to have to depend on a strong summer to rebuild their depth, although the program's recent history says that's definitely doable. Pala gives them a chance to contend in any race in Division 5, and even without better depth the Lancers will be a San Diego Section power. Whether they are capable of making the podium in Clovis, though, is yet to be determined.