OXNARD — High hopes and a winning tradition for the Glendale Community College cross-country program begin with Western State Conference titles.
Those hopes were, at least, somewhat dashed Thursday afternoon under gloomy skies at Oxnard College.
Though it wasn’t their best performance, the GCC women’s team easily prevailed in winning a ninth straight WSC championship, but it was the men’s result that left a bitter conclusion to the day for the Vaqueros.
GCC’s men’s squad’s string of conference crowns was halted at five, as College of the Canyons edged the Vaqueros, 43-49, roughly 40 minutes after the GCC women defeated runner-up Moorpark, 56-105.
“It was close. With 800 [meters] to go, we were probably up by a couple points, but they kicked and we didn’t,” said Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez of the finish to the men’s race, which concluded with GCC and COC exchanging the lead three times over roughly the final mile. “[Canyons] beat us in the last minute. [Canyons] raced today, those guys were ready.”
Elizabeth Nelson led the way for the women’s team, taking silver in the women’s 5,000 in 18 minutes 54.97 seconds, roughly 11 seconds behind winner Rachel Naumann of Moorpark (18:43.99).
The race was run over a rather unfamiliar Oxnard course that began with 800 meters around the track before a flat course that carried out over grass and dirt roads and rather narrow turns. The Vaqueros took a look at the course on Saturday to familiarize themselves, but times, for the most part, were unspectacular.
“We went into it thinking it would be [a fast course], but it was weird, because the times didn’t really match up with that,” Nelson said. “The plan was basically to just defend our conference title. There wasn’t really a strategy.”
Following Nelson for GCC was Glindyll Mancia in seventh at 19:23.7 and then Alejandra Quintero at 12th in 19:55.73.
“Alejandra ran well,” Lopez said.
Wrapping up the scoring five for GCC was Terese Villafuerte (15th, 19:58.22) and Caitlyn Selve (20th, 20:07.71). Glendale’s quintet came across the finish before any other team’s first four runners and before all but one squad’s top three.
“I think we ran OK,” Lopez said of the women.
Nelson, who finished 16 seconds in front of the third-place finisher, and Naumann were the only two runners to tally sub-19 times.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said Nelson, who was trying to continue a streak of GCC women taking first at the WSC final for the fourth straight year and for the seventh time out of the last eight seasons. “There was a lot of pressure on me to continue the tradition, but I didn’t.”
Still, Nelson ran well. The tradition of men’s teams taking first was the one that truly put a somber note to the day.
“It was a tough race,” Lopez said. “They got us at the end.”
Ian Roberts of Santa Barbara won the men’s four-mile race in 20:32.34 before Canyons’ Rodrigo Ornelas (20:40.45) took second and Glendale’s Enrique Ramirez (20:50.26) finished third.
Thereafter, Ramirez was followed by teammates Steban Aviles (fifth, 21:13.05) and Edwardo Vasquez (eighth, 21:22.92), while Ornelas saw his next two teammates take fourth and 10th, as the top three finishers for the Vaqueros and Cougars essentially canceled each other out with a 16-16 deadlock in points.
It was with the fourth and fifth finishers who ultimately decided the race.
Canyons took 12th and 15th, while Glendale’s Jorge Mendoza (21:37.35) and Jorge Serrano (21:41.98) took 16th and 17th, respectively.
“Eddie’s usually our sixth or seventh guy and he was third, so we had about three guys that we expected more of,” Lopez said.
While the men’s runners huddled up after the race, so too did Lopez and the coaches. The longtime coach, one of the most successful in the state, said he would likely wait until Friday to really speak with his team about Thursday’s events.
“They know they should’ve run better,” Lopez said.
Oddly enough, Lopez felt his women’s squad started too slow in its race, but was pleased with his men’s team going out fast.
“We looked good at the start, we looked good at two miles, then at three miles, I was like, ‘Uh oh,’” Lopez said.
Roughly three weeks prior at the conference preview in Ventura, the men’s team ran to a dominant win with 24 points, while the women took first with 58.
Going into Thursday, Lopez said he knew it wouldn’t be that easy for the men again, but was actually more concerned with the first race of the day.
“The workouts indicate we should’ve been better,” Lopez said. “We were more worried about the women than the guys.
“You get humbled.”
For the women, whose goal is to grow the program’s streak to nine consecutive years of top-three finishes at state, health and running better as a pack are paramount in the coming weeks.
“We have a great team, we have great potential. The thing we need to concentrate on is staying healthy,” said Nelson, who was nursing an injury along with Kelly Castillo (36th, 20:35.49), who’s been the Vaqueros’ No. 2 runner. “We have a shot. I think when it’s time for us to run well, we will. Lopez has always done a really good job of getting his teams to peak at the right time.”
For the men, they’ll have to move on from a disheartening loss as the Southern California Championships loom on Nov. 8 at Central Park in Saugus — Canyons’ home course.
“We’ve got to turn it around,” Lopez said. “Now we go back to their home course.”