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.
If you didn't expect to see Hart in this watch list series, it's likely you're in good company. The Indians didn't have a good cross country season this past winter, although I should point out that they only have a single dual meet recorded in our database. You would also be excused if you didn't catch anything special about this team back in 2019, when they finished 22nd in the Southern Section Division 2 finals.
If you did a little deeper, though, you find that Hart fielded four sophomores and a freshman in that race two years ago. That helps explain how they ranked 10th in the state among frosh-soph teams that season, and I can see evidence of that core group's improvement since then. Rising senior Jaden Wiley had a major breakthrough in the spring, clocking 9:15 and 4:21. Carson Despain and Zach Chan, also in the Class of 2022, both rebounded from a nearly non-existent cross country season to post PR's on the track. Owen Ahten, a junior that was 6th-best on the 2019 frosh-soph team, ran 2nd for the Indians this winter and spring while setting a 1-minute PR in the 3 mile and new all-time bests in the 3200 (9:46) and 1600 (4:27).
The thing that really intrigues me about this squad is the new talent they've developed during the pandemic year. You see, the Indians are not just running the same 5 guys that raced in the CIF-SS finals in 2019 - they've added rising juniors Paul Mangione, Nathaniel Branda, and Jordan Patton to the mix, all of them 10:03 or faster for 3200 but none of them in the top 7 returners for their team when they were 9th-graders. Putting everything together, Hart ended up ranked 6th in California for both the returning team 3200 and the returning team 1600. That's a remarkable result that actually puts them ahead of several teams that we profiled earlier in the series.
And here's the thing: the Indians can get even better than what they showed in the spring. Rising senior David Bos and junior Austin Rueff, both in the top 5 of that frosh-soph group in 2019, didn't compete this past school year. If they rejoin and return to form, then this will be a deep squad with a budding star up front. I'm declaring Hart as my sleeper team to contend in the Southern Section this year.