We just completed our Countdown to XC over the weekend, and I want to wrap that up by sharing with you one more aspect of the data used in that process. When determining the teams in the Countdown, I used three primary stats:
- Returning cross country rankings (5K and 3 Mile) from the 2018 fall season
- Returning team 1600 and 3200 rankings from the 2019 spring season
- Improvement Ratings
In this article, I will present the top 25 teams in my Improvement Ratings, for time periods of 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years. First, though, a brief explanation.
Improvement Ratings Explained
Improvement Rating is a custom metric I have developed over a period of years to evaluate the ability of a cross country program to make year-round progress. Simply put, it compares a team's yearly improvement to its place at the state meet:
- Improvement: calculated by comparing the team's final top 5 average time from a particular season to the returning top 5 average from the previous season (calculated for each year separately).
- Yearly Finish: a team's place at their respective state meet (teams that don't make the state meet are all given a 24th-place finish).
Using the finish at the state meet accounts for the size of the school, and also reflects my belief that it's harder for a well-trained team to develop significantly than it is for a less-competitive squad. Improving by 30 seconds as a team is huge if you were the state champion, whereas it's fairly common for decent non-state-meet teams to improve by a matter of minutes from season to season.
Once I have the yearly data, I take the average improvement over a given time span and compare it to the average yearly finish. That gives me the final Improvement Rating for a school, which I can then rank against other schools.
An important note: I have only gathered data for teams that were evaluated for possible inclusion in the Countdown over the last 4 years, which is roughly 80 schools for both boys and girls.
Let's take the example of the El Toro boys, a team that was left out of the Countdown, to illustrate how all of this works.
El Toro Boys
The Chargers score well in returning 5K rankings (14th) and in 5K improvement rating (18th). They aren't quite as strong in returning 3 Mile rankings (20th) or 3 Mile improvement rating (40th). Track season was a mixed bag, with a ranking of 10th in the 3200 and 27th in the 1600. All told, that should put them somewhere in the top 15 of the Countdown (where they would have been if not for an error on my part). Of course, the stats don't tell the whole story, so you have to dig in a little deeper. Do they have experience? (Yes, with 4 runners returning from their 9th-place finish in the Division 2 state meet last fall). Do they have senior leadership? (Yes, their projected top 3 are all Class of 2020, although it's worth pointing out that their rising junior class is also quite strong.) Do they have depth? (The gap between their returning 4 and 5 is concerning, but Pastis and Keenan both broke 10 minutes on the track, staying within 24 seconds of team leader Torres-Mondragon. That demonstrates significant progress.) Based on all of that, I'm optimistic that El Toro can improve on their 2018 season.
OK, all the methodology discussion is over! Now take a look at the results on the next few slides, with a spotlighted team on each page.