Vaqueros' Grace Zamudio zooming past the field

After crossing the finish line and finding out her result at the 2011 California Community College Cross-Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno, Grace Zamudio felt dissatisfaction.

Zamudio clocked 19 minutes 34 seconds to finish 37th, hardly the outcome the Glendale Community College women's cross-country runner expected. It served as a wake-up call for Zamudio, who knew she had to make some drastic changes with her training and running regiments.

"It was an eye opener at state last year, a very humbling experience," said Zamudio, who was a part of a Vaqueros team that won their third state championship in five seasons. "When I saw my time, I knew that I was going to have to continue improving and I had to do a lot more.

"Last year, I was so hyped to go to state. The day of the race, I didn't feel like I was on top of my game. I knew I had to take things that much more seriously because I'm running for a great program."

With one more year left competing for a Glendale college program that's again among the favorites to win the state championship in November, Zamudio, a sophomore, wanted to ramp up her effort in an attempt to get back to state.

The results have left Zamudio, who is also a member of the college's track and field team, satisfied.

Armed with confidence, Zamudio has made the right decisions on many of the 3.1-mile courses around California. She's being counted on by the Vaqueros to lead them to another state championship.

"Things are a lot different now," said Zamudio, who has won six straight races and has not lost against junior college competion this year. "Every point counts. Every decision you make on the course counts.

"Every course is different, and you can't always go by time. You just want to feel like you are going faster each race and you see signs that you are improving."

Zamudio, who participates in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events in track and field, has won her races by an average of 29.6 seconds and has become one of the top runners in the state.

Zamudio finished in 19:54 to win by 32 seconds at the Santa Barbara Invitational on Friday at Leadbetter Beach. In the process, Zamudio set a new course record, eclipsing the mark of 20:07 by Cuesta College's Devon Kelsey in 2011.

Zamudio posted her first win Sept. 8 at the Fresno Invitational, clocking 18:34 to win by 22 seconds. She then turned in a mark of 18:38 to win the Orange Coast Classic on Sept. 15 by 30 seconds before taking first in the Golden West Invitational in 18:20 by 31 seconds on Sept. 21. Zamudio captured the Foothill Invitational on Sept. 28 in 18:05, winning by 28 seconds, and also won the Western State Conference Preview in 19:28 by 35 seconds on Oct. 5.

Zamudio earned the California Community College Athletic Assn.'s Female Athlete of the Month honors in September.

Veteran Glendale college Coach Eddie Lopez said there are noticeable differences with Zamudio's running skills over the past year.

"She came into this season ready to go and that started with her putting in the extra miles," said Lopez, who guided the Vaqueros to the Western State Conference championship last season. "I think she started to get confident with her running toward the end of track last season.

"She learned a lot over the summer in terms of training and staying that much more focused. She's become a smarter runner [in cross-country]."

With Zamudio, a Hart High graduate, leading the charge, the Vaqueros continue to have a dynamic force at the top of the lineup, similar to what Karen Rosas, Nina Moore and Tove Berg brought to the program in recent seasons. Rosas finished first in the state meet last season.

With a strong finish to the season, Lopez said Zamudio can possibly be among the top runners from Glendale college to grace the courses.

"When you go out there and start winning by nearly 30 seconds all the time, you are more than doing something right," Lopez said. "I haven't had a runner like this winning by that much time, and I've had some great runners come through here."

Glendale college teammate Charlene Quintanilla said Zamudio has the talent to be the top runner in the state.

"She's better than before, and there's no reason why she can't be the best," said Quintanilla, a sophomore. "I always thought she was a talented runner, and I keep telling her she can win state.

"I think she's very humble and she's very positive about what she can do out there."

Zamudio said leading the Vaqueros to another state title would be the ideal way to conclude her career at Glendale.

She's just seeking a different finish.

"I would like nothing more than to PR at state," Zamudio said. "We have a tradition of our program winning state titles and having individual champions.

"I just want to be a part of the GCC tradition."

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