PREVIEW Cross Country Season Begins in the Southern Section!

Are You Ready?!?!?!

We cannot express how excited we are to be embarking on a full fall cross country season in the Southern Section! The last time we saw an invitational hosted was November 1st ... 2019!

Thousands of athletes are ready to finally lace it up, don their school uniforms and get on the line!

First on the agenda -- the Cool Breeze Evening Invitational this Friday!

This meet will go off with a newly configured course at the Rose Bowl, and, with fewer turns, meet director and Claremont head coach Bill Reeves assures that it will run FASTER than in the past. With more than 110 schools entered, the talent assembled here is massive.

Among the Southern Section-area invites launching Saturday morning, is the Fastback Invitational at Mt. San Antonio College, the site of the 2021 CIF-SS postseason. In the much-anticipated return back to the most storied course in the section, a huge crop of squads are ready to reacquaint themselves to the course, albeit, it will be the two-mile version.

In the Southern Section, cross country aficionados have persevered through the long layoff and have been waiting for this week -- and it is HERE!

Headlining those 'Sweepstakes' races, affectionately known as the 'Sundown Showdown' portions of the Cool Breeze Invite will be the women of Newbury Park. Ranked atop the CIF-SS Division 1 rankings and one of the top squads in California, the Panthers are not alone as the lineup features a 'who's who' with tons of squads with State Meet aspirations.

The squad that Newbury Park is trying to bump from the top spot in Division 1, Great Oak, with first-year coach Tammy Draughon, is also ready to shine. 

We should get our first glimpse at freshman Tiffany Sax, who already adds to a loaded lineup at Newbury Park, as well as her Valley United Track Club teammate, Sadie Engelhardt, the national youth star beginning her freshman season at Ventura HS.

Meanwhile, Mira Costa, Canyon of Anaheim, and Claremont are among the top squads in Division 2 coming into 2021. Mira Costa will be without two of its top five, but we may not notice with their depth.

JSerra is our top-ranked squad out of Division 4 and ready to roll. According to head coach Chase Frazier, they have not done any time trials and this will be his first real look at how well his girls compete as a group. La Canada is eyeing to be the spoiler role come November for Division 4 and will also be there in full force. In the first race of the post-Rene Paragas era, Saugus will jump into the fray as well. We have them slated as one of the top 10 teams in the section.

Mia Chavez (Chino) lines up to challenge the very best the Southern Section has to offer which includes Dalia Frias (Mira Costa), Sam McDonnell (Newbury Park), Maddie Coles (Claremont), Tiani Goeson (Serrano), Emma Hadley (Anaheim Canyon), Arielle McKenzie (La Canada), Sofia Abrego (Granada Hills Charter), Kelli Gaffney (Great Oak), Emmi Von Scherr (La Quinta), Alexis Fernandez (West Ranch), Ailish Hawkins (Newbury Park), and Allura Markow (Dana Hills) in a stacked field set to run under the lights at 8:14 pm. 

Arguably, we have seven of the top 10 girls' squads in the Southern Section ready to light it up, at night, in the Arroyo Seco at Cool Breeze.

Moving over to the boys, the Newbury Park boys will run a limited group in this one and wait to unleash its top-seven firepower at the Woodbridge Invite in two weeks. But, wait -- the cupboard is NOT empty!

Hart, our top-ranked squad in Division 2 and Great Oak, ranked No. 3 in Division 1 figures to put on a show. The boys of Royal are slated for a State Meet spot in Division 2 as is Claremont and Dana Hills. The boys of West Torrance are our favorite in Division 3 as we enter the season. 

Individually, Jai Dawson (Dana Hills) and Jaden Wiley (Hart) figure to provide a November preview in Division 2. Ethan Godsey (Agoura) will also toe the line but we expect Isaiah Givens (Pasadena) to take home the victory here. The scheduled 8:34 pm Varsity Boys Sundown Showdown field also is scheduled to include Conor Gibson (West Torrance), plenty of Great Oak singlets led by Cameron Smith, Christoph Waligorski (Redondo Union), Lance Denhalter (Vista Murrieta), and Grant Sweningson (Santa Ana Foothill) among those expected up front. 

Meanwhile, even with a limited group -- expected to be led by Dev Doshi and Zaki Blunt -- do not be surprised to see a Newbury Park uniform up toward the front as well.

Moving over to the Fastback Invitational the following morning, this will be the first time in years that we will witness athletes finishing in the legendary 'gauntlet' in finishing on the Mt. SAC course. Divided up into eight races, one for each gender and one per grade, this is a great shakeout race so to speak for those who plan to return with their very best in November.

Competing on the condensed 2-mile version of the course, that eliminates one of the Valley loops and the majority of Reservoir Hill and its backside, it's a great way to introduce the course in the earliest part of the season.

Those with State Championship aspirations include Ayala, with their boys being one of our top squads in Division 2.  Meanwhile, Roosevelt is also using this opportunity as an early-season primer with their boys projecting to once again, qualify for the State Meet. The girls from Yucaipa, Westlake, Huntington Beach, and Orange Lutheran will also take to the course.  

Among other invites toeing the line Saturday morning: Great Mini Cow Run, this year being held at Marina HS, and Riverside Showcase on the former CIF-SS Championship meet course. 

We cannot wait to view the results, crunch the numbers on a Sunday morning and realize ... it's great to be back!  Of course, our partners at Finished Results will be providing all of the live coverage!

Mark Gardner is the Southern Section editor for MileSplitCA.

Photos by DeAnna Turner, Raymond Tran and Jeffrey Parenti