GCC passing the baton

GLENDALE — Departures from both the women's and men's track and field teams of Glendale Community College leave some big shoes to fill. Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez remains confident, however, that his current squads, which began their season on Saturday at the Pomona-Pitzer All Comers meet, boast enough fast feet to do just that.

Four of the six All-American honorees who made headlines for Glendale's women's program at last year's state meet, where the Vaqueros finished fifth, are gone, with reigning 1,500-meters state champion Rosa Del Toro and distance standouts Nina Moore and Angie Gonzalez, as well as sprinter Samantha Bogatz, all having moved on.

But Karen Rosas, who was runner-up in the 5K and 10K at state last year, and Vivian Ochoa (fourth in the 5K at state) are back to head up a strong sophomore class that will be helped along by some promising freshmen.

"She's looking really good," Lopez said of Rosas, who is a co-captain. "She's our No. 1 girl. …She's probably favored to win the 5K and 10K [at state].

"We don't have the depth that we had last year, but we're just as strong in the distance. …Our middle distance and distance are really strong. These are big points for state and we're going to be a big-point team at the end of the year where our kids are able to double at the state meet and get some points."

The other captain is sophomore sprinter Rita Assoian, a Glendale High graduate, who competed for the Vaqueros as a freshman before losing her sophomore year to injuries. Assoian will compete in a variety of events, including sprint relays, the 100, 200 and long jump.

The Vaqueros' distance and middle distance corps will also include returning steeplechasers Catlin Kelly and Diana Sanchez and Laura Pluemer, as well as freshmen Alyssa Selve, who is set to run the 800 and 1,500, and Angie Martinez, who is coming off Western State Conference runner-of-the-year season in cross-country.

"We're trying her in the steeple chase, but if it doesn't work, the 10K or 5K is going to be for her," Lopez said of Martinez, who placed ninth at California Community College Cross Country Championship in November. "She has good range. She'll score in the 1,500, too, in conference."

Glendale High graduate Daniela Pollard returns to compete in the jumps and sprint relays along with sophomore sprinter Carissa Porter, who will be one of the Vaqueros' top athletes in the 100 and 200.

"Our relay should be under 48 [seconds] with maybe a chance to go to state," Lopez said.

Other freshmen to watch are CSUN transfer and Glendale High graduate Jennifer Dowty, a quarter-miler and sprinter, distance runner Cecilia Nicolas and freshman pole vaulter Melissa Cruz.

"We think she could break our school record in the 400," Lopez said of Dowty.

Glendale also placed fifth in Southern California last season after finishing second in the WSC.

"[In conference] West L.A. has the numbers, but we should be close up there," Lopez said. "When you lose two state champions, it's hard to replace, but I feel confident with this group."

The Vaqueros will have a chance to qualify more athletes for state this year thanks to a format change for regional qualifying. Whereas the old guidelines would automatically qualify the Southern California and Northern California champions in each event followed by the top six performers from each region, now, after the North and South champion, all other qualifications will be determined according to their times, regardless of region.

"That's going to help the South because the North is really weak in the distance events," Lopez said. "Instead of having steeplechase runners run 13 minutes, now they're going to actually have to go under 12 and score.

"There will be more athletes from the South competing in the distance races. That's to the South's advantage and to our advantage."

The Vaqueros men's squad also bid adieu to its lone two representatives at state last year, with distance runners Jonathan Alpizar, an All-American in the steeplechase, and Frankie Quijada both moving on to four-year programs.

"We're proud that the kids keep moving on, that's the main thing," Lopez said.

But the team looks to be more balanced this year with improved sprinting and relay depth. Leading the charge there will be sophomores Harold Tabora, a Hoover High graduate, Robert Weathers, a graduate of Glendale High, Rafael Reyes, Trent Adams and Trey Williams.

Freshman hurdlers Arthur Papazyan and Ramon Robles have also joined the team.

"Our sprinters are a lot better," Lopez said. "We're happy with our sprinting corps and our hurdlers are going to be decent.

"Both our relays, our sprint relay and the 4x400 relays, are going to be stronger for the men, a lot stronger than last year. We anticipate running under 42 [seconds] and about 3:15 in the 4x400."

Middle distance looks to be the team's main strength behind sophomores Adrian Anderson, Crescenta Valley graduate Neil Jones, co-captain Miguel Flores, a Southern California finalist last year in the 800, and co-captain Ricky Avila, whom Lopez said has the best range on the team. Avila, a standout cross-country runner, will also give the steeplechase a shot.

"We're really strong in the middle distance," Lopez said. "Ricky could be a state champion in the steeplechase, Miguel has a good chance of qualifying for state in the conference championship and so do Adrian and Neil, too. It's just one of the best distance groups that I've had."

Freshman Robert Pulido will handle discus and shot put duties for the Vaqueros.

Glendale will look to build on last year's sixth-place conference finish when this year's conference finals for the men and the women commence April 29 at Bakersfield College and to qualify more athletes for the state meet, which will be held for the men and the women May 20-21 at American River College.

"When we go to invitationals for a distance medley relay and a two-mile relay and a 4x1,600, we're one of the best in the state," Lopez said. "Definitely, in conference we're the best middle distance, but we're talking about going against El Camino, San Bernardino and Orange Coast. We're ready for those guys."

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