GLENDALE — With an athletic history as rich as it is long, Glendale Community College has a lengthy line of state champions and teams and individuals whose efforts and achievements stand the test of time.
The Vaqueros' hall of fame swells a bit more with each annual class of inductees and their well-guarded tradition is carefully passed on through the generations of its alumni and students.
In short, Glendale college has tasted victory in its athletic endeavors before. But never has there been such a simultaneous convergence of success across multiple programs in a single season as there was in the spring semester that recently concluded.
Glendale college Men's Athletic Director John Cicuto and the man who preceded Cicuto as A.D., Jim Sartoris, who served the college as a coach and administrator for over 39 years before retiring in Jan. 2007, have been around to witness firsthand a great deal of what constitutes Glendale college's athletic heritage.
Neither of the two, both of whom also shaped the school's football tradition as players and coaches, have seen anything quite like the epic spring season that was.
"I've been here 36 years and I don't know if we've ever had as much success in our spring sports as we did this year," Cicuto said. "It was just an incredible year for our athletic teams in the spring."
The spring of 2011 was defined by a startling run of invincibility for men's tennis player Alex Sarkissian, an accelerated renaissance for the recently reestablished men's golf team in its ascension to the state playoffs, the finest season ever for the baseball program and the sustained excellence of the women's track program, marked by the amazing performance of double state-champion Karen Rosas.
"It's been a spectacular spring and a special year for Glendale Community College," veteran Vaqueros men's tennis Coach Bob Mackay said. "I don't think we've ever had one quite like this before."
And it all culminated in a dizzying seven-day span in May that saw Glendale college compete for state championships in four different sports and capture the top prize in two.
"I really can't," Sartoris said when asked to recall a season that compared to the most recent spring. "I think this spring was outstanding as far as the accomplishment and it's really a credit to the kids and the coaches, they did a fabulous job. I can't remember a better spring as far as winning and playing the game the way they did."
Traditionally a frequent postseason presence in the Southern California Regionals, MacKay's tennis team began its season in early January with even higher hopes pinned to top singles players Sarkissian, a sophomore, and freshman Trevor Campbell, who also formed the team's top doubles team.
Neither disappointed, helping the Vaqueros go 9-8 to place second in the Western State Conference and make an appearance in the SoCal regionals on April 19, but the two would extend their individual seasons well into May.
"When Alex Sarkissian came here, I told him everybody in the area would know him," MacKay said. "We do this by bringing in kids from around the community and I thought Alex would win state before the season began. I knew he had a very good chance."
In the interim following the conference tournament, which capped an unbeaten regular season for Sarkissian, the duo took part in the prestigious Ojai Tournament, where Sarkissian became the first Vaquero ever to win the singles title before teaming with Campbell to prevail in their quest for the doubles crown on May 1. It marked the first time since 2004 that one school had swept the men's titles at the prestigious event.
The roll continued when Sarkissian played through a full day of oppressive Palm Desert heat on May 7 to lock up the Southern California singles title while coming one win short of equaling the feat in doubles with Campbell.
Sarkissian completed his amazing "trifecta" of regional, Ojai and state titles on May 14 by sweeping College of the Desert's Rodrigo Schaefer, 6-2, 6-1, on his home court after falling behind, 0-2, in the first set. The win also capped off a season in which he went an amazing 35-0 in singles matches and 70-0 in sets.
"To beat Alex, you have to go out there and beat him. It was a learning process early on and then he quickly figured things out," MacKay said. "You might not get a chance like this, so take advantage of it. Alex went 35-0 and 70-0. I don't think that will ever be broken."
Sarkissian, who also reached the state semifinals in doubles with Campbell, said his edge in experience helped him adapt to any situation on the court.
"I've been playing tennis all my life and it helped a lot throughout the season," Sarkissian said. "I had more experience than most of the players.
"I had a lot of fun playing this whole season. It was an enjoyable experience and if I could do it all over again I would."
Four years ago, the Glendale college men's golf program didn't even exist. After reviving the program from a 23-year hiatus, it didn't take Coach Greg Osbourne long to put the Vaqueros back on the map.
Brennan Amirkhizi was the only sophomore on this year's team, but proved a worthy leader and his teammates followed his example to pace the Vaqueros to a second-place finish in conference.
Freshman Michael Timpson out of Crescenta Valley High carded a 142 to earn medalist honors and as the team clinched second with a team mark of 760 on April 25 at the conference finals at Los Serranos Country Club's South Course in Chino Hills.
Another second-place finish at the team's first appearance in the Southern California Regionals at Bermuda Dunes Country Club, led by Amirkhizi's two-round score of 147 and Timpson's 148 was enough to vault the team into the state tournament at Kings Country Club in Hanford.
"That was incredible," Cicuto said of the golf team's rise to state. "We were really excited about our team getting into the state championship round in golf. They just worked so hard."
The Vaqueros' seventh-place finish in the eight-team state tournament could hardly put a damper on an overall season in which the team wildly exceeded expectations with a lineup that returns all but one of its members next year.
"It was fantastic to get to Southern California Regionals and then to state," Osbourne said. "We tried hard at state and we have set the standard. I'm so proud of the team and each of our eight players.
"Getting to state has electrified the program and the recruiting has been unbelievable for both the men's and women's golf teams."
An influx of NCAA Division I bounce backs and summer collegiate league players to his roster, not to mention some returning cornerstones, gave Glendale college baseball Coach Chris Cicuto reason to be optimistic.
By the end of the spring, the Vaqueros would accomplish more than any other team in the history of the program, including capturing the first Western State Conference South Division title since 2002, clearing the regional round at Stengel Field with a walk-off hit, and plowing through the super regional at Rio Hondo College to clinch the program's first state berth under the tournament's current format.
"It was just a thrill to see them in the final four with the class they showed," Sartoris said. "That was thrilling."
Behind sluggers such as Sako Chapjian, Sean Spear and Ellis Whitman and the dependable arms of Ryan Sherriff, Nick Woodward and Michael Noteware, among others, the Vaqueros, who clinched the conference crown on the final day of the regular season, achieved a 29-16 record and came within one win of playing for a state championship in the three-day, four-team state tournament at Bakersfield.
"It was our pitching staff that really allowed us to kind of stay in games and give us an opportunity to score runs late," Chris Cicuto said. "That was the biggest part of our success."
The season ended with a 7-3 loss to eventual champion San Joaquin Delta on May 21, but not before the Vaqueros rallied for one more elimination-game victory, 13-6, over Santa Ana earlier in the day behind a solid start from Sherriff and a three-hit, four-run-batted-in day from Ryan Daniels.
"These kids will remember this year for the rest of their lives," Chris Cicuto said. "Besides getting married and [my daughter] Samantha being born, that was the absolute best weekend of my entire life. I'll never forget that. Even if we go back and win a state championship, these are the group of kids that got us there for the first time ever and that's something that no one can ever take away from them."
With multiple state-champion teams and individuals in its rich lore, the Glendale college women's track program is accustomed to being a player at the state level under Coach Eddie Lopez.
"He really has the experience of bringing Glendale college teams to the state championship," John Cicuto said of Lopez. "And not just going up there, but walking off with some really high honors."
This season, the Vaqueros looked to sophomore Karen Rosas to carry on the championship torch passed by past state winners such as Kim Lorimer, Tove Berg and Rosa Del Toro, and Rosas carried it well.
The Vaqueros brought nine athletes into the California Community College Athletic Assn. Track and Field Championships May 20-21 at American River College in Sacramento, including Rosas as a favorite in the 10,000 meters and 5,000 after she placed second in both at state the previous year.
Rosas started with a win in the 10K on May 20, her tactical approach paying off with a winning time of 37 minutes 19.69 seconds over runner-up Ayded Reyes of San Diego Southwestern. The effort didn't leave Rosas with much left for the 5K the next day, but whatever Rosas had, she left on the track in beating Sara Toberty of Orange Coast in a wild finish to complete her two-title haul.
"To have this on your shoulders for a whole year," said Lopez, who had seven athletes earn All-American honors at state. "You were second, second and you come back and you are expected to win — that was really a tribute to her and to her discipline."
Rosas drafted Toberty for much of the race before both runners got tangled up inadvertently and lost their footing. Rosas sprang up first and was able to finish off the race despite her exhaustion.
"I just had faith in myself," Rosas said. "I was like, this is it. God gave me one more chance and you've got to take it. I felt good towards the end."
The significant success enjoyed by so many teams and individuals at Glendale college this spring uplifted the student body and inspired the entire extended Vaqueros family.
"There's a lot of sacrifice for the athletes to compete and go to school," John Cicuto said. "To see them put all that time in with their sport and then to achieve that success, not only is our athletic department extremely proud of those teams, but the school is, too."
By providing a distraction from the rigors of academic life, made even more stressful by budget cuts within the district, the exploits of the Vaqueros on fields, courts and courses over the spring semester galvanized an already tight-knit community where familial ties run deep, whether in the literal sense of the Cicutos or the broader sense of one team supporting another.
"It's a tribute to John Cicuto because it's like a family here," Osbourne said. "We all went to the other teams' games and rooted for them."
And whether it was the women's tennis team filling the bleachers at a men's event, track athletes coming from a meet to cheer on the baseball team or any number of alumni supporters coming out to watch history unfold, it made a difference for the athletes competing.
"The people that motivate me, the people that inspire me, they played a big role in my mind the last lap," Rosas said. "It was one very exciting race. I'm never going to forget it."
The spring of 2011 promises to linger long in the consciousness of those who populate the Vaqueros athletic department and the GCC campus at large, or for that matter anyone who has done so at any time over the years.
"There's a new pride playing for GCC," Osbourne said. "You want to make it two years that you'll never forget. Let's look for that way to enhance the sports and give them something to be proud of. Look at what's happened with baseball, tennis, track and field and golf."