30 Girls XC Teams to Watch this Fall: Great Oak (SS)

It's time to get fired up for cross country! Our traditional XC countdown is back, although it may look a little different this time around - our longtime data analyst Jeff George has moved on, leaving this energizing project to the MileSplit team in CA. Our collective goal is to briefly highlight 30 boys and 30 girls teams that we think will have an impact this fall. We will spotlight one team per gender per day over a 30-day period. Similar to past countdowns, we will provide a cross-sampling of teams from all 10 sections without regard to statewide or even division ranking (those will come later, as will articles previewing each section, and returning athletes to watch). As always, if you catch an error or have updated information for us, email CA state editor Jeffrey Parenti (jeffrey.parenti@flosports.tv) and we'll make the corrections.

Great Oak (SS/Division I)

Great Oak has been the most dominant girls cross country program in California over the past decade.  No team has ever placed themselves on top of the podium at the California State Meet more than the Wolfpack while they boast a resume unmatched in California prep history.

With an unprecedented SEVEN consecutive Division I State Championships from 2012 to 2018, Great Oak found itself off the podium in 2021 for the first time since 2011 in placing fifth a year ago in the uber-loaded Division I final.  End of dynasty perhaps?   But, wait - this is 2022, and Great Oak projects to bounce back just fine and should resume its place on the podium this Thanksgiving weekend. 

With TEN CIF-SS Division 1 team titles in an eleven-year span, dating back to 2009, last year saw their string of eight consecutive titles come to an end.  But, on paper, Great Oak and unmatched depth are the favorites to claim the divisional title in 2022!

Coming off her ninth-place finish a year ago in the Division 1 State Meet race, senior Kelli Gaffney (pictured) leads the charge. She also posted new lifetime bests for the 1600 meters (4:58.43) and the 3200 meters (10:59.71).  

Reflecting back to this past spring, Great Oak was only one of two squads (Buchanan) with seven girls to break 11:55 for the 3200 meters while only four other squads in California featured seven girls under 5:30 for the 1600 meters.  

In a recent time trial the program conducted before heading off to Mammoth for their summer training camp, the program featured 11 girls under 18:00 (2.75 miles) even with Gaffney missing.  In 2021, that number was only five.

Leading the way at the time trial was a much-improved sophomore, Avery Smith, who provided a glimpse of her talent with an 11:47.43 this past spring for 3200 meters. Meanwhile, senior Kali Kraus finished just ahead of sophomore Maelin Nunez, and seniors Hannah Miller, and Lauren Ropacki.  Of interest, all are returners but did not represent the squad at last year's State Meet.  With that, it is obvious that the endless depth that Great Oak has always turned heads with is still there!  

Senior Ameya Teli (5:25.90/11:30.72) and Aishling Fabian (5:26.98/11:33.71) bring back valuable postseason experience. Also, watch for Devlyn Torza to feed off her 18:25.8 best (from the Garmin Running Lane Nationals last fall) and she posted 5:27.21/11:40.06 bests this spring. Senior Joelle Upshur also returns after her impressive 18:43.9 at the 2021 State Meet.    

Great Oak is the favorite to capture the CIF-SS Division 1 title this season.  In regard to the State Meet, one of the nation's best in Buchanan awaits them.  But, Great Oak, on paper, is in the running for another team nationals berth, where they earned a top-10 finish every year from 2013 to 2019! 

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2021 Returning Times for 5000 Meters

Great Oak (SS) 
1) Kelli Gaffney17:54.2521
2) Devlyn Torza18:25.7650
3) Aishling Fabian18:30.0055
4) Joelle Upshur18:39.7070
5) Ameya Teli18:43.7877
Average Time: 18:26.70 Total Time: 1:32:13.49 1-5 Split: 49.53
6) Cailin Osborne19:13.10152
7) Meilani Castillo19:17.50171
Scoring is against all returning girls in CA.
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Mark Gardner is a teacher, former coach, in-demand announcer, and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

Photos by DeAnna Turner