SANTA CLARITA — Running on a familiar course with high stakes and top competition, Glendale Community College sophomore Lizzy Nelson went out fast – a little too fast.
Roughly midway through the Southern California Championships at Central Park in Saugus, Nelson, who had started out in the top four, had fallen all the way back to the 10th spot.
Nelson rallied emphatically, however, finishing in 19 minutes flat to take fourth place in the women’s 5,000 meter championship race and leading Glendale to a second-place team finish in the process.
“When I had 10th, it hit me all of sudden, ‘I can’t be back here, my team needs me to get that single [digit],’” Nelson said.
Nelson and company took second with 140 points behind a dominant performance from Orange Coast, which won with 58 points. Alejandra Quintero (26th, 20:01.2), Glindyll Mancia (34th, 20:15.7), Caitlyn Selve (39th, 20:20.9) and Terese Villafuerte (41st, 20:22) completed the scoring for the Vaqueros.
Shortly thereafter, the Vaqueros men’s team earned a berth in the state finals alongside the women when it finished seventh with 164 points, led by Hoover High alumnus and sophomore Daniel Marin’s 19th-place finish in 21:34.1. The men’s race was dominated by Santa Bernardino Valley’s Omar Caro, who won by more than 11 seconds in 20:44.2, leading to a team win with 72 points.
“I thought we ran well,” Glendale Coach Eddie Lopez said. “We had a pack, but we have to have more guys up front, that’s the name of the game. It wasn’t our best race.”
One runner who wasn’t up front was Enrique Ramirez. Ramirez, the third-place finisher in the Western State Conference and routinely one of the Vaqueros’ top two runners, did not race due to a nerve injury in his foot. Lopez believes, had Ramirez been able to run, it would have made quite a difference.
“A lot, maybe 50 points, at least,” Lopez said. “That’s why I think we’ll do better at state.”
Steban Aviles was second across the line for GCC, finishing 28th at 21:55.6. Jorge Serrano and Jorge Mendoza packed together to take 54th and 57th, respectively in 22:29.4 and 22:30.5. Sean Paknoosh was the fifth and final scorer for the Vaqueros, coming across in 68th in 22:40.
The SoCal championships came two weeks after the Western State Conference finals in which the GCC men were upset by College of the Canyons. The Vaqueros gained a bit of revenge, as COC placed ninth with 242 points. However, Lopez still believes there’s a better race in store at state, but his team needs to heal up and, most importantly, get better at the mental game.
“The workouts indicate we’re peaking. We’re getting faster, it’s just mentally [where we’re struggling],” Lopez said. “They’ll be healthy, it’s just gonna be getting mentally ready. They have to get tough. They have the talent.”
Nelson, in many ways, showcased her toughness in working all the way back up to fourth.
“I went out really hard. I started to doubt myself in the middle,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of it is just mental.”
But Nelson’s mental toughness eventually shined through.
Nelson, who ran in high school at Saugus High across the street from Central Park, and her teammates were competing on the course for the third time this season.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” she said.
Though the GCC women won the WSC crown, Lopez and company still felt Thursday saw a better race from the squad.
“The girls race, they race very well,” Lopez said.
Next up is the California Community College Athletic Assn. Cross-Country Championship on Nov. 23 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
On Thursday, for the ninth consecutive year, the GCC women finished in the top three in Southern California.
“That keeps our streak going,” said Lopez, whose women’s team has eight straight top-three finishes at state. “We want to keep our state streak going.”