NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Leading into her sophomore season at Glendale Community College, Brianna Jauregui was a bit apprehensive about the Lady Vaqueros' chance at repeating as California Community College Cross-Country champions.
After a decorated career at Saugus High filled with CIF Southern Section Division and CIF-State titles, Jauregui certainly has a storied pedigree to fall back upon when weighing the prospects.
With only two runners returning from last season's top five, departures, such as that of reigning state individual champion Nina Moore, loomed large. But over the summer, the admitted doubt Jauregui had transposed into promise.
"At first, I [thought] it's gonna be a lot more challenging," said Jaureugui, who was the Vaqueros' No. 5 runner at state last season, but was largely their No. 2 finisher throughout the season. "Over the summer, though, things changed. … I really do think our girls are talented, I really do think we'll be able to get that state championship if our girls work hard and really want it."
And repeating as state champions is most assuredly the goal at Glendale Community College.
"We have the potential," said sophomore captain Vivian Ochoa, one of last season's top-five runners. "The team is similar to last year's team, but we have a lot of new runners. I think we can do it again."
Still, there are plenty of questions surrounding a team that won state last season, but is ranked just sixth in California by Go College Track.com entering the first meet of the season on Saturday at the Fullerton Invitational.
Coach Eddie Lopez, whose team looks to win its third state title in four seasons, its fifth straight Southern California championship and sixth consecutive Western State Conference crown, believes his team is likely to progress throughout the season. Hence, a slow start is a possibility, but should his team peak at the end of the season, it would work out perfectly.
"We're younger this year, but we still have some talent," Lopez said. "We have the potential to be as good as we were last year, but it's probably gonna happen more at the end — which is what you want anyway."
With Moore's departure comes the glaring vacancy of a No. 1 runner. In 2007, when GCC won state, they had Katie Dunn, who was also a threat to take the individual crown, and before that was Tove Berg, who brought home individual glory, as well. This year, that's likely to change in more ways than one.
"We just don't have that frontrunner this time that we did last year," Lopez said.
First across the line for the Vaqueros isn't necessarily going to be an individual contender and it's not likely to be the same runner race in and race out.
The likely scenario is that Jauregui, Ochoa and first-year sophomore Keri Molt, another Saugus High graduate, will push each other for the top spot.
"I don't really think there's gonna be a specific No. 1," Jauregui said. "I think it's gonna end up switching off between us."
But while the absence of a bona fide frontrunner might look like a weakness to some, it's also evidence to GCC's biggest strength.
"We're very deep," Lopez said.
Currently the Vaqs have 16 runners on their roster, which doesn't include Karen Rosas, a sophomore who will redshirt and would've likely contended for the top spot.
Notable runners include sophomores Diana Sanchez and Catlin Kelly, as well as freshmen Frances Pasamba of Glendale, Jessica Pena, Angela Martinez of Burroughs and Alyssa Selve.
While many on the team are inexperienced, both Molt's and Jauregui's experience at Saugus and the latter's with GCC last year, along with Ochoa's, is likely to pay dividends. Ochoa, for one, also brings the momentum of state track and field glory as she was an All-American in the 10,000 meters in the spring.
"Track season was really good for me and hopefully that will transfer over to cross-country," Ochoa said.
GCC's first chance at repeating comes with the WSC Championships, that it will host on Oct. 26 at Crescenta Valley Park. And winning a sixth-straight WSC crown is something Lopez is confident his team can pull off.
"Nobody's gonna challenge us in conference," Lopez said.
On Nov. 6 in San Diego, GCC will look to repeat as SoCal titlists before hopefully heading north to the familiar site of Woodward Park in Fresno for the state championships.
Indeed there are big shoes to fill as last year's squad won state with 43 points to second-place Orange Coast College's 80, a gap of only 68 seconds separating the Vaqueros' No. 1 runner from their No. 6. In the process, GCC ran a record team-time of 92:18 on the much ballyhooed course.
For now, though, there are no talks of domination, simply duplication, as the make-up of the team might have changed, but the outlook remains clearly the same.
"Definitely, just work hard as a team and at the end try and get that state title," Jauregui said. "That is the goal, to get that state title."