The last time a Glendale Community College women's cross-country team fell short of defending a state championship, the disappointment didn't last long.
The Vaqueros, under veteran Coach Eddie Lopez, assembled one of the finest teams the state had ever seen following 2008's second-place finish and reclaimed the crown in overwhelming fashion in 2009.
Last season, Glendale couldn't run down San Diego Southwestern for the state title, but once again looks primed to repeat history.
"On paper, this is probably our best team ever that I've coached," Lopez said — a statement sure to grab attention, as the Vaqueros have finished second or better in state each of the past four years. "We're very deep and they really work well together. I'm proud of them. We had a good camp in Big Bear and they're getting along and they're very easy to coach."
The Vaqueros' season began on Saturday in the Fullerton Invitational and, if all goes according to plan, will end atop the state podium at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 19.
The key piece of Glendale's team will be the return of sophomore Karen Rosas, a member of the 2009 title team, who didn't run cross-country last season, but turned in a stellar track season that included state championships in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. An All-American in cross-country her first year at GCC after finishing seventh at state, Rosas, the team captain, moves to the front of the pack, where she'll be joined by two top returners in Alyssa Selve and Angie Martinez.
Selve, an All-American in the 1,500 meters last track season, was the second-highest finisher for the Vaqueros at state last year behind Martinez. Martinez is also the reigning runner of the year and champion of the Western State Conference, where Glendale won its sixth straight team title last year.
"A conference championship is going to be up there for Karen and Alyssa has a chance to compete for the conference [title] and Angie's the defending conference champ, so we're looking for one of them to win conference," Lopez said. "It's going to be tough to compete against us because we're a really strong 1-2-3 punch."
Competing to fill out the top five will be freshmen Grace Zamudio from Hart High, Charlene Quintanilla, the City Section champion in the 3,200 from Santee High, and Gina Person from Birmingham, a CIF state qualifier in the 1,600 last year.
But it doesn't stop there. The Vaqueros' depth continues with track All-Americans Laura Pluemer (1,500) and Cecilia Nicolas (steeplechase), as well as newcomer Nohemi Martinez.
"Our sophomores are stepping up," Lopez said. "Last year our freshmen were our top runners. This year, they're coming back with Karen, so we have a lot of leadership."
Lopez expects Southwestern to be the Vaqueros' top competition again this season, along with perennial contenders Mount San Antonio and Orange Coast. But he still likes his team's chances to sweep the WSC and Southern California, where the Vaqueros were runners-up to Southwestern last year, in addition to the top prize of state.
The conference finals will be held Oct. 25 at Cuesta College and the SoCal Championships will take place on Nov. 4 at Cucamonga-Gusti Park in Ontario.
"We look good, I think we can win [conference], Southern Cal and state — the triple crown," Lopez said. "I really feel confident about that, but it's one step at a time."