Prediction Meter: Four California Teams With NXN Potential

* JSerra Catholic junior Sophie Polay runs her way to third place at the Orange County Championships earlier this month.

Photo credit: Raymond Tran / MileSplit

- - - 

By Tomoki Chien - MileSplit California


Championship season is here. 

On Nov. 25, the California state championships will be held at Woodward Park in Fresno. The following week, teams from across the U.S. will compete in the season-ending Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon. 

There are nine regionals in the month of November across the U.S., though California is the only region that uses its state championship as a qualifier. 

The California state meet acts as that qualifier, with the two fastest teams in each division -- boys and girls -- earning their auto-bids to the meet. However, four at-large teams from each field will also get selected from across the U.S., which means that two additional teams from both fields could also get selected from California. 

Read on as we detail four California teams who could qualify for Nike Cross Nationals.



JSerra Catholic

Here's a home exercise: For every California meet this season, write the name of the team champion on a piece of paper. Tape to a wall. Close your eyes. Throw a dart.

Chances are you'll hit JSerra. The sole meet the Lions haven't obliterated this season was the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, where the squad placed second only to Air Academy -- which isn't even a California school. The team's most impressive performance thus far was its blowout win at Clovis, where the Lions earned a 41-point margin over the closest competitor.

The team will look to three-peat at the CIF Division IV championship and, if given the chance, will no doubt be out for redemption at NXN after a second-to-last-place finish last season.


The Cougars have yet to prove their merit at the championship level this season, but flashes of brilliance suggest they could take on NXN. Junior Sadie Engelhardt, the team's perennial star, looked her best at the ASICS Clovis Invitational, where she cruised to a win with a nearly 7-second lead.

Engelhardt's supporting cast led by sophomore Aelo Curtis and junior Tiffany Sax also looked its best at Clovis, where the two supporting leaders placed 13th and 28th, respectively.

Those times helped Ventura earn silver in the team competition behind JSerra.

The results at other high-level meets have been mixed, but Clovis was also the only time Ventura has fielded every top runner in a race of that calibre thus far: suggesting the team might be in better shape than it appears at first glance.

Honorable mentions: Buchanan, Santiago (Corona)



Great Oak

The returning state champions have looked like the most consistent squad in California since the start of the season. Highlights include winning Mt. SAC, just barely losing out to Dana Hills for second at Clovis and finishing third at Woodbridge -- though the best of all California teams.

Great Oak (arguably) hasn't had any headline-grabbing wins -- many top teams didn't run at Mt. SAC, which is the only big meet the Wolfpack has won -- but its consistent performance at high-caliber meets bodes well for any NXN run.

The team, led by senior Gabriel Rodriguez, will have the chance to convert that consistency to a big win in the CIF Division I championship and use that momentum to secure an NXN berth for the second year in a row.

Dana Hills

Junior Evan Noonan and senior Jayden Hernandez offer combined star power that most teams just can't match. The two led the Dolphins to their biggest win of the season at Clovis, powered by a third-place finish from Noonan. Then, a week later, the two breezed through the Orange County Championships with a one-two finish.

All signs point to Dana Hills taking the CIF Division III title, which would be quite the accomplishment for a team that's struggled for the past three seasons to replicate its pre-pandemic success.

Honorable mentions: Ventura, San Clemente