GCC cross-country right in thick of tight race

There are a couple of favorites to capture first prize at the California Community College State Cross Country Championships at Fresno’s Woodward Park on Saturday, but a host of other teams can’t be counted out.

That’s good news for the Glendale Community College men’s squad, which will be scrambling for position in one of the most wide open state meets in recent history when the gun goes off at 10 a.m.

“Everything is up in the air, especially with the way the weather is supposed to be,” Glendale captain Issac Diosdado said. “The fact that there might be rain just throws everything up in the air. Anything can happen.”

Other than the weather, there are other factors making the race unpredictable.

Defending state-champion American River College dominated Northern California, winning its championship on Nov. 3 handily by placing its entire top five in the top seven, and is a strong contender to repeat, but is the only team in the conversation from the North.

San Bernardino is another favorite after winning the Southern California title on Nov. 3, but that meet was extremely close, as just 23 points separated the top six, with Glendale taking sixth. Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez expects that trend to continue on Saturday, making for a wild race.

“It’s going to be seven teams fighting for the top three spots, it’s going to be very close,” Lopez said of the packed field of contenders that also includes Cerritos, Riverside, Los Angeles Trade Tech and Orange Coast. “I’ve never seen it like this before.”

In order to move up the ladder, the Vaqueros will need another strong performance from the 1-2 of Kurt Lutz and Diosdado, who finished 10th and 14th, respectively, at SoCal. Mario Castillo also had a good showing for GCC, placing 24th, but Lopez said other runners will have to step up to tighten the pack at state.

“Kurt and Issac have been so solid and Mario,” Lopez said. “We just need those fourth and fifth guys, whoever they are, to try to get a pack, maybe not seven seconds [apart], but a pack that’s going to be at least 15-20 seconds. We have to be right there in order to get a trophy.”

Vladimir Diaz (24th at SoCal) and Yeltsen Vasquez (39th) would seem to be the most likely to fill the fourth and fifth spots, but the X-factor for Glendale might be Mizrael Mendez (54th). The sophomore was a big part of last year’s team before leaving the squad before the 2012 season. He’s since returned and has a record of success at Woodward after starring at Birmingham High.

“We just need a big race out of him on Saturday,” Diosdado said. “We know he can do it and he knows he can do it, so we just expect a lot of him this Saturday.

“We need to have Nos, 3, 4, 5 run up a little higher in the top pack a little more and just get them closer together. If we get that, then we’re a sure shot at top three or top four.”

In a race this tough to call, Glendale’s ultimate fate could come right down to the final lap.

“We could go from winning or second or third to seventh place,” Lopez said. “I know we’re peaking and workouts indicate the kids are ready.”

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