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Glendale College Track and Field Preview: Vaqueros look to blend mixture of quality athletes

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Jennifer Perez-Cazarez is a key returner this season for the Glendale Community College women’s track and field team.
(Tim Berger \ Staff Photographer)

Balance will hopefully give the Glendale Community College track and field teams a little more leverage as the competition in the Western State Conference strengthens.

That’s the approach Glendale coach Eddie Lopez will be taking.

Last season, the Vaqueros boasted strength with its distance runners, but a weaker component in the field events hindered their run in state competition.

This year, Glendale can still puff out its chest with some talented middle- and long-distance runners.

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“For us to do well in our conference, we have to pick and choose, so we’re the strongest in the distance, but we’re probably going to be the strongest in the weights — us and Bakersfield — and we’re going to do well in the jumps, the sprints and the hurdles,” Lopez said. “We’re a lot more balanced than last year and the year before.

“I say balanced because last year we were really loaded in the distance and middle distance. This year, we’re strong because we won conference, but we’re not as strong as last year. Last year, we had some great runners. This year, we have some good runners and more.”

With the conference prelims beginning in late April and state finals in May, Glendale has a lot to look forward to.

The Vaqueros’ men’s athletes will enter the season hoping to defend their Western State Conference title for a third season, led by sophomore middle-distance runner Carlos Rivera.

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In the Western State Conference Championships, Rivera recorded a pair of third-place finishes in the 800 meters (1 minute, 57.32 seconds) and the 1,500 (4:03.07).

Rivera also finished seventh in the 1,500 (3:59.92) in the Southern California Finals.

“We’re looking for him to get one conference title and get some points,” Lopez said. “He should be up there in the 1,500-meter races and he’s the fastest returner in conference in that race. He’s one of the top 800-meter runners in the conference and made it to state in the 1,500 and runs on our relay team.”

The Vaqueros will have to make do without 2018 All-American Raymond Lopez, who finished runner-up in state in the 10,000 and took the conference title crown in the 5,000 and 10,000, and 1,500 conference champion Paulo Vazquez, a Glendale High product, who were sophomores last season.

But Glendale will have the help of athletes crossing over from fall sports, with the addition of cross-country runners Albert Serrano and Crescenta Valley graduate Spencer Geck and football wide receiver Jalen Lawrence.

Serrano will take part in the distance races, while Geck looks to compete in the steeplechase.

Lopez said Lawrence will spearhead the 100 and 200-meter, as well as the relays. Another key addition to the relay team will be hurdler Sergio Aguilar, along with Jesus Gutierrez, a transfer from Allen Community College in Kansas.

This year, the Vaqueros welcome Crescenta Valley grad Riley Center as their go-to athlete in the throwing events.

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“He has a chance to win some titles in the shot put,” Lopez said. “But he can score in the discus and the hammer. He’s a well-rounded thrower, but I think his best event is going to be the shot put.”

Center joins returning sophomore Pablo Gamez in the throws.

Like the men, the women’s team has the quality to battle in the conference following its seventh-place finish with 61 points last season. Joining Lopez’s coaching staff is former 1,500-meter state champion Elizabeth Nelson. The Burbank native and Saugus High alum, who won the state title in 2014, will help out Lopez’s runners, including 2018 All-American Jennifer Perez-Cazarez.

Perez-Cazarez won the conference title in the 10,000 (40:21.17) and placed fourth in state, setting a personal record of 40:12.22.In addition, she finished runner-up in conference in the 5,000 (18:36.11) and placed sixth in state (19:07.09) in the event.

“[Nelson’s] been working out with the girls and help coaching them and she’s told me Jennifer is just as good as she was and some of the other greats that we had,” Lopez said.

“If coach Nelson is telling us that, and we agree, just don’t want to put too much pressure. But if all goes well, Jennifer is going to be one of the greats that we’ve had at Glendale College. Just amazing workouts she’s had.”

This year, however, Lopez looks to keep Perez-Cazarez in the 5,000 and 1,500 races.

The move is to help ease competition against L.A. Harbor, which won state, and Moorpark, which placed third in conference.

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“This is what I like,” Lopez said. “I like to compete, and she’s ready. She’s our captain. She was All-American last year and All-American in cross-country. She’s ready to step up and be one of the great runners we’ve had at Glendale college.

“We know she can break. We want to see if she can get under 17:30 or faster, and in the 1,500 meters, under 4:40, depends on how fast.”

Though Lopez faces a low turnout on the women’s team, the Vaqueros will have key returners in Burbank High product Noemi Apreza for the distance races, Daisy Romero and Jazmin Negro for the middle-distance race and Genesis Alvarez for the 3,000 steeplechase.

Field event athlete Deja Marsh makes her return in the shot put and will also compete in the javelin and discus events.

On top of the Vaqueros’ goal of maintaining conference success, Glendale will hope to make a further push in the state finals.

The Vaqueros men’s squad finished tied for 12th (17 points) at the Southern California finals last season, while the women finished in a three-way tie for 21st (eight points).

“The key to winning track and field is not winning events,” Lopez said. “It’s tough to win every event. You have to pick in choose. You make it to prelims and finals, that’s what we train every year.

“You make it to prelims and finals and then the top-eight score. It helps if you win, we’ll get some conference champs, but you need to get those eighth-, seventh- and sixth-place finishes. Those add up and that’s how you win in track and field. It’s not win in one event or two events, you have to make the finals.”

vincent.nguyen@latimes.com

Twitter: @ReporterVince


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