The De La Salle boys and Carondelet girls enter this year's championships as the team favorites once again. On the boys' side, however, the Spartans might get a stiff challenge from Deer Valley and Liberty, who ran virtually side-by-side at the recent Mariner Invitational.
The Wolverines took third as a team at the Mariner meet, followed by Liberty in fourth. Liberty's top-four placers actually finished better than Deer Valley's top four, but the gap between the schools' fifth-place runners moved the Wolverines in front of the Lions.
Wyatt Landrum looks to be a legitimate threat to contend for a BVAL individual title this season, and has paced the Lions all year long. Landrum, who recently broke the course record at Shadow Lakes, finished fourth overall at the Mariner competition, posting his second top-five finish at a large invitational in recent weeks, having also placed fourth at Castro Valley. He also earned the honor of top individual finisher in Liberty's recent tri-meet with Antioch and De La Salle.
Manny Rin, meanwhile, has emerged as Deer Valley's top challenger. Rin finished just eight seconds behind Landrum at the Mariner meet to place seventh in the 5,000-meter race.
Where Liberty and Deer Valley will finish as a team, however, will depend on the ability of the rest of their top five to run well and stay close to one another.
At the Mariner Invitational, Deer Valley's Adrian Gallo and Nate Baker both finished in the top 20, while Ryan DeVito and Mason Livingston finished strong, both placing in the top 30. The Wolverines' five runners were all within 51 seconds of each other.
Liberty's success will also depend on the strength of its top five. Devin Carter, Johnny Cattolico and Justin Harris all finished in the top 20 last weekend, while Nate Miller and Derek Gaffett will be running hard for the fifth spot.
Antioch's Matt Humphreys will be looking to contend with Landrum and Rin at the top of the pack as well, having finished just a step behind Landrum at the Castro Valley Invitational and notching second behind Landrum at the tri-meet. Humphreys is joined up front by Christiaan Perez, Eddie Quintero, Chris Slatten and Jacob Robertson in the Panthers' top five.
Freedom is led by freshmen twins Ned and Nathan Klein, who are joined in the top five by Jake Johnson, Andrew Zamora and Allan Sanchez. Pittsburg is led by a strong top three of Juan Banales, Robert Thompson and Casey Trias.
On the girls' side, all teams will be chasing highly ranked Carondelet, led by sophomore standout Nicole Hood.
Deer Valley boasts some strong runners poised for championship competition. The Wolverines placed fifth in the Mariner, and are led by one of the best 400-meter runners in the state, Jasmine Cox. Cox finished 10th at the Mariner and in the top tier of runners at Stanford earlier this season. Her sister, Jamira, is also among the top Wolverines runners. The sisters are joined by Haley Crawford, Fiona James, Ese Ntekume, Chizoba Okodogbe and Cieara Waller.
The depth of the Wolverines should serve them well, as Liberty will also be looking to pose a challenge as one of the top schools in East County.
The Lady Lions are led by Cynthia Aguilera, who is joined in the top three by Lindsay Hammond and Julianne Gaul. Aguilera finished just five spots behind Cox last weekend.
Pittsburg, Freedom and Antioch will all be looking for strong performances from their top runners. The Pirates' Rachelle Palomino should run strong, while Antioch's Veronica Regalado will pace the Panthers. Freedom is led by freshman Taylor Machado, who placed in the top half of the field at Stanford, and is joined in the Falcons' top three by Jasmine Hangartner and Monica Salgado.
This year's BVAL Championships mark a milestone and represent a changing of the guard for the league. De La Salle and Carondelet, perennial contenders for the league title, will be moving to the East Bay Athletic League after this season, meaning that this year's edition, which marks the 20th anniversary of the current championships with the original core teams of the BVAL, will be the last with those yearly powerhouses in attendance. The Cougars are currently figured among the top three favorites for a state championship.