Just 20 seconds separated Glendale Community College’s Kurt Lutz and teammate Mario Castillo on Saturday.
Therein lied the largest factor in the Vaqueros men’s cross-country team running to one of its finest finishes at the California Community College Athletic Assn. Championships in recent memory.
Behind a stifling pack led by Lutz and concluded by Castillo, the Vaqueros turned in a second-place finish at Fresno’s Woodward Park, tallying 96 points to first-place American River’s 84 and far in front of third-place Orange Coast, which finished with 158 points.
“We’re very happy, we’re about as happy as we’ve ever been after a race,” said Lutz, who took 12th in the four-mile race in 20 minutes 36 seconds. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a race like that where everyone had a really good race. We talked about it before the race that everybody had to run their best race and it happened.
“Everything really did come together.”
On the women’s side, GCC also claimed a second-place finish, led by a sixth-place mark from Grace Zamudio, as Orange Coast tallied 79 points to Glendale’s 100.
“Both teams ran well, they ran very well,” said Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez, whose women’s team finished third or better at state for the eighth straight season. “That’s a great streak. We’re proud of that.”
Zamudio was undefeated against junior college competition coming into Saturday and had won eight consecutive races, including championship runs in the Western State Conference and Southern California championships. She was unable to win a ninth straight, though, finishing sixth in 18 minutes 33 seconds in a race won by De Anza’s Katie Castro in 17:45.
“She can run faster than that, that’s obvious. There was a lot of pressure on her to win,” said Lopez of Zamudio, who was looking to give GCC back-to-back individual titlists after Karen Rosas led the Vaqueros to a team title with her individual win last season. “She had a great season. She led us to second place. There’s nothing wrong with that, she’s an All-American.
“I think sometimes you get a little too nervous. ... It just wasn’t her day today. She had a great season, we’re proud of her.”
Lopez was also proud of his women’s team for persevering despite a slew of injuries and one of its top runners leaving the squad during the season.
“Nobody expected us to be top three, but they did the work. They fought the whole year,” Lopez said. “They gutted it out.”
Elizabeth Nelson came up big as the No. 2 runner for the GCC women, taking 11th in 18:52 after finishing
15th in conference and 24th at SoCal.
“She came through,” Lopez said.
As did Lizzette Gonzalez, who’s been battling a leg injury all season and took 22nd in 19:08.
“She fought through it today,” said Lopez, who got a 27th-place mark of 19:14 from Charlene Quintanilla and a 41st-place finish from Abril Ramirez (20:06) to round out the scoring five.
The men’s team’s scoring five was separated by 20 seconds and 14 spots.
“That was the plan from the very beginning. We’ve been trying to do it all season. We managed to do it today,” Lutz said. “This is probably the best performance we’ve had.
“This is really a jump forward.”
Following Lutz was Mizrael Mendez in 20:48, taking 17th.
“Miz ran well,” said Lopez, whose men’s squad took seventh last year at state. “He took off. He stepped up today.”
Following behind was Issac Diosdado in 20:50 for 20th, then Vladimir Diaz in 21st a second later and Castillo in 26th at 20:56. The team’s sixth runner, Yeltsen Vasquez, came across in 21:01 at 30th, adding to the impressive nature of the pack.
American River, led by winner Matt Airola (20:11), had two more runners in the top 16 and its last two finish in the top 28 to stave off the Vaqueros.
“They were ready. They were quiet and they were really focused,” Lopez said. “American River was sweating. We were right there. We were close to winning, but second is awesome.”