Already having proved itself to be a regional dynasty with real staying power over the last several years, the Glendale Community College women's cross-country program added a new tier to its ever-expanding legacy on Saturday morning at the 2011 California Community College Cross-Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
The writing was on the wall after the Vaqueros had easily beaten their top state competition, Orange Coast College, in the Southern California championships the week prior. And things fell in line as expected at state, as Glendale held off the Pirates once again, 30-115, to win the 5K race and claim its third state crown in five years. The win also continues a seven-year span in which the Vaqueros have never finished lower than third place at state.
"We've been, in the last seven years, the most dominant women's cross-country program in the state," Glendale Coach Eddie Lopez said. "We know that Orange Coast has set the standard, but right now we are the most consistent and the best program in the state of California.
"It's been a team effort with the school and everyone helping. It's been good, I can't complain."
Glendale's Karen Rosas, who edged Cuesta's Devon Kelsey by one second, claimed the individual state championship with a winning time of 18 minutes, adding to a collection of individual hardware that already included track and field state crowns in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races won in May. It is also the second team title for Rosas in cross-country, as she was a member of the last Vaqueros championship team that won it all in 2009.
"I'm definitely relieved," Rosas said. "For a split second, I thought I didn't have it and that is a terrible feeling because you've worked so hard and you have all your teammates looking at you like you can do it.
"There's so many great feelings. In the training process there's so many things going on and the girls had a lot of faith in me to lead them. …It's not only Karen Rosas, it's also the team itself and how much we all worked and the passion we put into it."
Recovering from a flu-like illness in the days leading up to the race, Rosas said she felt strong and had taken a 50-meter lead by the race's midpoint. Kelsey made an impressive late charge, however, actually passing Rosas momentarily with 50 meters to go before Rosas kicked right back for a photo-finish win.
"On those last 800 meters, she really came up to me strong," Rosas said of Kelsey. "I wasn't looking back so I actually thought it was [teammate] Alyssa [Selve] for a moment and the last 20 meters I saw her foot in front of me and I wasn't able to kick, my body wouldn't react to it until I saw her almost pass me at the finish. I said, 'No, I can't let this happen,' and thank God, I ended up in first.
"She has a great stride, she can kick."
Three of the Vaqueros' next scoring runners finished in the top-10 in Selve (third, 18:20), Angela Martinez (sixth, 18:39) and Laura Pluemer (seventh, 18:42). Nohemi Martinez rounded out the scoring five at 15th in 19:01, followed by Cecilia Nicolas (17th, 19:03) and Grace Graham-Zamudio (37th, 19:34).
"It feels great winning as a team," Martinez said. "Last year, I was on the team that got second, so this year winning just was a really amazing feeling."
Rosas and Martinez said the starting point of the race was more crowded and congested than the Vaqueros were used to this season, but their pack eventually broke through and reformed.
"It really did throw us off because all year we've been able to just get in a pack, one-two-three, right away in the beginning," Martinez said. "The gun went off and it was just so crowded and we were literally sprinting as fast as we can because we didn't want to get stuck behind a big group. Slowly, but surely, we were able to pick everyone off.
"At the end, we just held it through and gave all we had for a strong finish."
Lopez said his women's team, which has won eight straight races, performed well under the pressure of high preseason expectations and the No. 1 ranking that followed the squad all season.
"It's hard when, if you take second place, it's not [considered] a successful thing and the pressure mounts that you have to win to actually have a good season," Lopez said. "I thought they handled it well."
The Vaqueros men's team placed seventh with 246 points in a tough four-mile field dominated by powerhouse American River College (49), which was followed by San Bernardino Valley (91) and San Diego Mesa (101).
Mizrael Mendez was Glendale's top finisher at 14th in 20:33. The Vaqueros scoring five included Issac Diosdado (32nd, 20:56), Jesus Gutierrez (71st, 21:30), Yeltsen Vasquez (73rd, 21:31) and Alexander Nelson (76th, 21:33). Garrett Seawell of American River posted a winning time of 19:54.
"We got out pretty good, but [after the first] mile, they didn't have it," Lopez said. "We were right there with the pack actually, probably in third place, but after the mile we just couldn't maintain. It wasn't our day.
"American River just dominated. It was really a tough field. Those schools that were one, two, three, they earned those spots."