GCC Men's Cross-Country

Glendale Community College's men's cross-country team warms up for practice on the campus track. The Vaqueros are hoping to match or improve upon a second-place finish at the state finals last year. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer) (August 29, 2013)

GLENDALE — Is it possible to have both a team that’s brand new and yet experienced?

It’s a question that could be posed to the Glendale Community College men’s cross-country team as the squad prepares for its season opener at Saturday morning’s Mark Covert Classic at Carbon Canyon in Fullerton.

Yet, that’s not what the Vaqueros and coach Eddie Lopez are asking themselves this summer.

Nope. The thought that surrounds the squad is can they repeat a wildly successful 2012 season that saw the team clinch a Western State Conference championship, finish sixth at the Southern California Championships, only to follow up those performances with a silver-medal effort at the California Community College Cross-Country Championships.

“If you look at our team, it’s easy to make a mistake because the information is misleading,” Lopez said. “We don’t return the top names from last year, which makes this team new. But, we’re still returning an excellent team that has the ability to do just as well.”

None of the top seven runners who helped deliver the program’s fifth consecutive conference championship are returning this year.

Gone are conference runner-up Isaac Diosdado, All-American sophomore Kurt Lutz (the highest finisher at both the Southern California and state finals) and all of last year’s scoring runners.

Back this year, however, are quite a few athletes bent on making their own mark.

“I would say expectations are a lot higher this year than last year,” sophomore Enrique Ramirez said. “A lot of guys made huge jumps during the track season. Everything we’re doing now, every step we’re taking is light years beyond last year.”

If there was a such thing as a No. 8 runner, Ramirez would have been it last year for the Vaqueros.

While the Verdugo Hills High product was the eighth-best runner for the Vaqueros last season, Ramirez still posted the 15th-best time of 23 minutes, 30.26 seconds at conference finals, which was the last race of the season for non-top-seven runners.

Sophomore Steban Aviles was right on the heels of Ramirez and took ninth for Glendale and 16th overall in 23:39.05.

Perhaps nowhere did Glendale flex its muscles more all year than at conference finals at Santa Barbara’s Ledbetter Beach on Oct. 23.

Glendale’s total of 19 runners crossed the finish line before the seventh runner of four of the conference’s opposing nine teams.

“The expectation is to always do well in conference, no matter who we have coming up,” said Lopez, the reigning conference coach of the year, whose team has won 10 conference crowns over the last 13 years. “This team isn’t just thinking about conference. We’re thinking about the Southern California championships and state.”

If Glendale is to match or surpass last season, then Lopez’ squad will need strong efforts from returning sophomore Jorge Mendoza, Daniel Marin (Hoover High), Edwardo Vasquez (team captain), Jorge Serrano and newcomer Sean Paknoosh, who are expected to fill out the roster.

“We have three goals that we want to accomplish. We want to win conference, take top three in SoCal and do the same in state. We have this standard that the sophomores left us,” Vasquez said. “We want to live up to that standard.”