Glendale Community College women's cross-country

The Glendale Community College's women's cross country team works out during a practice on campus. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer / August 30, 2013)

GLENDALE — Whether they practiced in the 95-degree, mid-afternoon heat or during cooler, crisper mornings, it didn’t seem to matter what time or venue the Glendale Community College women’s cross-country team prepared for the upcoming season, which kicks off Saturday at the Mark Covert Classic.

It seemed everywhere the squad went, there was also a giant shadow cast by the talented 2012 team, led by All-American Grace Zamudio.

The aforementioned Grace Zamudio was part of the 2011 California Community College Cross-Country Championship team that was followed with a runner-up up performance in 2012, which extended the program’s streak of eight consecutive years of a state top-three finish.

Glendale also won consecutive Western State Conference crowns during Zamudio's run, while also capturing the 2011 Southern California title. Zamudio won a Southern California Individual title in 2012 as her team finished runner-up to Orange Coast College.

“Grace is an excellent runner and a great leader,” Vaqueros Coach Eddie Lopez said. “She did almost everything for us last year, except win a state title.

“This year we have some great runners coming back who have a chance to win both an individual and team state championship.”

Perhaps there isn’t an area runner more adept with dealing with following in a legacy than returning sophomore Elizabeth Nelson, formerly of Saugus High.

Nelson is the daughter of Vaqueros assistant coach Kathyrn Nelson, a talented former runner, and of one of the area’s greatest area runners of all-time in Burbank High and GCC star Jeff Nelson, who won a state individual and team title with the Vaqueros in 1980.

“We don’t have a front runner this year like we had last year with Grace, so we have to make up for that by running better in a tighter pack,” Elizabeth Nelson said. “The good thing about running with Grace and last year’s team is that we have an idea of where we’re supposed to be at.

“There’s pressure to do well, but the good thing is that we understand what it took to be successful like last year’s team and can use our times and performances to measure and see how we’re doing.”

While Zamudio certainly made headlines in 2012, Nelson wasn’t far behind as she also garnered All-American honors, as she finished 15th (22 minutes, 22.70 seconds) in conference and 24th (19:42.33) in Southern California and followed up both those efforts with arguably her race of the year in taking 11th (18:51.21) at state.

“I really believe that Elizabeth can be a great runner and someone who can win state. Hey, after all it’s in her family,” Lopez said. “But the good thing is that there’s a team around and Elizabeth doesn’t have to put pressure on herself.”

Sophomore Kelly Castillo, a Providence High product, is also returning after serving as the Vaqueros’ No. 7 runner last year in state in finishing 86th (20:23.66).

“One of the good things about this team is that you already see the chemistry,” said Castillo, who also finished 31st (23:48.55) in conference. “Our goals [are] win conference again and to finish top three in Southern California and state. We can only get there by working hard now and we’re doing that.”

As for the next five, Lopez has a brand new crew in freshman Alejandra Quintero, Arcadia High standout Glindyll Mancia, Narges Motamedi, Caitlyn Selve and Teresa Villafuerte.