There was somewhat of a surprise near the top of the California "Hot 100" boys cross country preseason rankings on PrepCalTrack.com.
De La Salle High was ranked third behind Southern Section Division I powerhouses Arcadia and Dana Hills. It's been quite some time since an East Bay Division I boys cross country team has been listed so high in preseason state rankings because Southern Section teams tend to dominate the Division I boys races at the state meet.
"It's exciting because it's evidence of the hard work we have put in," said De La Salle coach John Pelster, whose team is also ranked No. 15 in the nation by DyeStat.com behind Arcadia (fourth) and Dana Hills (14th). "We have had some impressive performances. This is recognition of that."
De La Salle placed 12th in the Division I state championship race last season, but five of its seven runners from that race return, and that doesn't include standout senior Blair Hurlock, who missed all of the postseason last year with a foot injury.
Hurlock isn't the Spartans' only front-runner. Matt Schumann, a junior, and senior Luke Williams both won major races last year -- Schumann was victorious in the East Bay Athletic League championship race and Williams was first in the Ed Sias Invitational large-school race.
"We have three outstanding front-runners, which is unusual for us. Backing them up, we have a crew of guys ... essentially seven guys who are fighting for four spots," Pelster said. "This is a tremendously deep team."
The Spartans open their season at the Ed Sias Invitational in Martinez on Sept. 14.
For years, the Deer Valley High Tournament has provided tantalizing early September matchups and an idea as to the best teams in the East Bay.
That will be the case again Saturday as 24 teams will be participating in the event, including many of the top teams in the area.
"High quality competition is always a draw for the Deer Valley Tournament," Deer Valley coach Tina Briggs said. "The pools are very competitive, and bracket play is more competitive. Many of the top teams from the Bay Area will be at the tournament, so it gives you a great picture of where your team stands in the early season."
Among the participating teams is Campolindo, which is No. 1 in the Bay Area News Group's rankings, along with EBAL contenders California, Carondelet, Foothill, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley.
Last season, EBAL teams made up five of the eight squads in the North Coast Section Division I quarterfinals, and all of the semifinal participants before California won its first section title since 1982. Campolindo won the NCS Division III title for the second time in three years.
Las Lomas, Northgate, Dougherty Valley and Heritage are some of the other contending teams. The host Wolverines, who finished third in the Bay Valley Athletic League, also appear to have a solid squad in this season.
-- Matt Smith, correspondent