LANCASTER — Battling through pain, torrid winds and stiff and physical competition, Rosa Del Toro emerged Saturday afternoon as a state champion.
Running a brilliant and strong race from start to finish, the Glendale Community College sophomore claimed victory in the women's 1,500-meters race at the California Community College Athletic Assn. Track and Field State Championships at Antelope Valley College.
"It's so exciting, it's indescribable," said Del Toro, who won the race in 4 minutes 43.88 seconds, pulling away down the final stretch in front of second-place Sara Toberty of Orange Coast, who finished in 4:45.42. "Last year, I couldn't even make it out of [the Southern California Championships]."
While Del Toro assuredly grabbed the biggest highlight for the Vaqueros, it was an all-around successful day for Glendale.
"This is the best we've ever done at Glendale," said Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez of his women's team, which finished fifth with 58 points, just three points behind second-place Sacramento (61 points), while Laney won the state crown with 82 points. "We did better than we did at SoCal, that tells you that we came to compete, so I'm happy."
Seven Glendale runners combined for eight All-American individual honors over the two-day championships, which began on Friday. All-American recognition is earned with a top-six finish.
Del Toro, freshman Karen Rosas and sophomore Samantha Bogatz earned two All-American nods apiece. After winning the 1,500, Del Toro returned to take third in the 5,000 in 18:28.24. Rosas, who had finished second in the 10,000 on Friday, took second in the 5,000 in 18:14.22. Bogatz finished fifth in the 100 (11.88) and fifth in the 200 (24.72).
Angie Gonzalez began the day and the All-American parade for GCC with a sixth-place mark of 12:19.78 in the 3,000 steeplechase. Jonathan Alpizar, a Burroughs High grauate, then defied all odds in the men's steeplechase, taking fifth in 9:48.93 after he was knocked out in a freak accident just seconds before the race was scheduled to start.
Also in the 5,000, Moore grabbed fifth in 18:50.79. On Friday, former Burroughs runner Vivian Ochoa had finished fourth in the 10,000.
"We ran well," Lopez said.
And nobody ran as well as Del Toro in the 1,500.
Though she was the fourth-seeded runner, Lopez said he knew Del Toro had a first-place performance in her.
"She was always right there," he said. "We knew she had to do most of the work, but not start out too crazy."
That's exactly what she did, beginning the race conservatively, before turning it on around the second lap.
"She executed perfectly," Lopez said. "She led almost wire to wire. She showed a lot of guts and courage."
Swirling winds wreaked havoc on the runners all day long, thus it was all the more impressive that Del Toro took the lead early and held onto it. Battling the wind and at least a couple of elbows from opposing runners made the race all the more arduous.
"It was quite painful, I felt so much better in other races," Del Toro said. "It was all mental, I just told myself just take it. To be honest, I was in a lot of pain [toward the end], but I just told myself, you've just got three laps left, go for it."
During the last few laps, Del Toro led a pack of five that was hot on her heels and seemed poised to let Del Toro do all the work running against the wind. She did, but never faltered, as her game plan to throw caution to the wind and go strong to the lead early on certainly paid off.
And in the final lap, with Pasadena's Tracee van der Wyk battling Del Toro for the top spot, van der Wyk fell behind as the GCC runner turned it on after the final turn.
"I was just trying to push through the wind," she said. "The last 100 meters I just kept going."
Gonzalez took sixth, just as she did in the SoCal Championships. The women's steeplechase was won by Mt. San Antonio College's Mallory Celaya in 11:54.40.
Not long after, Alpizar was getting ready for the start of the men's steeplechase when an Antelope Valley runner, not in the race, was doing striders and ran into Alpizar, knocking him out in the process.
"It was really bad and I blacked out," Alpizar said. "I was on the floor for a while.
"After I stood up, I was about to cry cause how could this happen before the race."
Both Lopez and the trainer on site advised Alpizar not to run.
"I told him not to run, the trainer told him not to," Lopez said.
But Alpizar did.
"I was thinking about giving up, but I just kept going," said Alpizar who added that his leg, which had swelled up, and his head, which was marked by a bruise, were both bothering him throughout the race.
Nonetheless, he persevered enough to become an All-American in the race, which was won by San Francisco's Mark Frazier in 9:32.80.
"Fifth is pretty good," Alpizar said. "I was happy with that, All-American, fifth place."
Added Lopez: "That was just awesome. That just showed courage man, courage."
In the 5,000, GCC picked up three top-five finishes and showcased its distance prowess and a major reason they're the reigning state cross-country champions.
In a race that featured amazing separation, Mt. SAC's Lenore Moreno, who finished first in 17:58.25 after taking home the 10,000 the night before, and Moorpark's Madelyn Stoltze (fourth, 18:41.37) broke away early. A second pack of all GCC runners followed, with Rosas, Del Toro and Moore all eventually overtaking Stoltze before the Moorpark runner got in front of Moore.
"We really help each other," Rosas said. "When we stepped on the track, Nina, Rosa and I were all thinking we're working as a team."
The race also marked the end of a stellar weekend for Rosas with her pair of second-place finishes.
"Especially since she's just a freshman," Lopez said. "It's awesome."
Glendale's 4x100 relay squad of Alin Jabourian, Carissa Porter, Daniela Pollard and Bogatz took fifth in 48.37. Moore, the reigning state cross-country individual champion, took eighth in the 1,500 in 5:09.83. In the men's 5,000, Francisco Quijada took 12th in 16:31.64.
Clearly though, when it came to the GCC women's distance runners, it was a banner two days and in Lopez's eyes bodes well for the future on the track and cross-country courses.
"Our distance girls really put it on the line," said Lopez, whose cross-country team was represented at the state track meet by Moore, Del Toro, Rosas and Ochoa. "It sets a tone for cross-country."