A first-place approach

Mizrael Mendez isn't overly excited with the fast start to his cross-country career at the collegiate level. That's not his style.

When Mendez gets to the starting line to race for the Glendale Community College men's team, there's no strategy planned out before taking to the four-mile courses. He's not overly excited, he's not visualizing and he's trying to block out all distractions once the starting gun goes off.

Thus far it's worked out well, as he's been accumulating first-place individual performances for a Glendale college team eyeing another Western State Conference championship in October and an appearance at the California Community College Cross-Country Championship at Woodward Park in Fresno in November.

Mendez, a freshman, knows what's at stake and he hasn't disappointed in the first month of the season, recording three first-place finishes.

"I don't go out there worrying about anything, like times," Mendez said. "I just set aside all expectations and run my race to the best of my ability.

"Some people try to visualize a race the night before, but, for me, it's just about walking up to the starting line and going out there running my best. You know pretty much who you are racing against and everybody is running the same course."

For Mendez, there's been plenty of accomplishments for a Glendale college squad that finished sixth in state last season.

He's stepped in and been the consummate runner needed by the Vaqueros, who are set for their most important slate of meets in the coming weeks.

Mendez kicked off the season by posting a 25-minute 58.7-second first-place finish at the Fullerton Invitational on Sept. 3. He followed that by clocking 21:17 to place sixth overall at the Fresno Invitational on Sept. 10.

At the Orange Coast Classic on Sept. 17, Mendez finished first with a mark of 20:21.40. The Vaqueros came in third place in the meet.

In his most recent race Sept. 23, Mendez, a Birmingham High graduate, clocked 20 minutes to win the Golden West Invitational and led the Vaqueros to a second-place team finish at Central Park in Huntington Beach.

"I don't know what I got after certain splits," Mendez said about his performance at the Golden West Invitational. "I just felt good going into that race and I took the lead early.

"If I hadn't done that, then I would have tried to come back at the end. I never let the lead runners out of my sight."

The winning attitude that he's brought to Glendale college hasn't surprised Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez.

"He's healthy and he stays to a pace," Lopez said. "He's a natural runner because he knows when to push it.

"He's a smooth runner and so easy to coach. I just want him to stay consistent with his training and running patterns."

Alec Nelson, a freshman for the Vaqueros, said it's assuring for the team to have Mendez in the lineup and in position to help the Vaqueros score well in meets.

"He's probably the most talented runner who I've ran with," said Nelson, a Saugus graduate. "You can always see him going out there and pushing hard.

"We are all tired after a race and he's still out there pushing. It's his positive energy."

There's plenty of work — on and off the course — for Mendez to get done. He's been putting in extra miles away from the team practices on a weekly basis to put himself in position to become stronger with the season full of challenging meets.

Mendez won't stray from what he's done best.

"I know what I'm capable of doing," Mendez said. "God has given me a talent.

"I've got to go out there and stay positive."

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