When the Glendale College men's cross-country team placed second to Ventura in the Western State Conference standings last season, it marked only the third time since 1976 the Vaqueros had settled for second place.
But with four runners from that team back, joining several talented newcomers, Glendale may be ready to reclaim the conference title despite losing standout James Moore. Moore, last season's WSC individual runner-up in cross-country and the conference's 10,000-meter champion in track, transferred to Pasadena City College.
"We have the potential to win," Glendale Coach Ed Lopez said. "We were inexperienced and we had only one sophomore on the varsity last year. We have a lot more depth this season."
The WSC champion will be determined by three conference meets, including the WSC finals at Moorpark, which will be worth double points in the standings.
Lopez expects Hugo Allan Garcia, who ran in the world track championships in 1987 for Guatemala, and Obed Aguirre from San Fernando High to be Glendale's top two runners.
Garcia, 26, placed 15th in a personal-best 14 minutes 8.72 seconds in his semifinal heat at the world championships, but failed to advance to the final. Aguirre was the City Section cross-country champion last season and placed fourth in the 3,200 meters (9:01.11) in the state high school track championships.
"The key to how well we do depends on how much Obed can close the (time) gap between him and Garcia," Lopez said. "He's used to very low mileage and hasn't been able to run much this summer because of a foot injury."
Fred Mirzaian, Robert Lopez, Rick Provenzano, Oscar Perez and Javier Flores should round out Glendale's top seven.
Mirzaian, who placed ninth at last year's WSC cross-country championships, and Lopez, the coach's younger brother, advanced to the Southern California junior college track and field championships in the 1,500 and 10,000 meters, respectively.
Provenzano finished ninth at 800 meters at the state junior college meet last season and has a best of 1:52.01; Perez was the state Division III cross-country champion for Pater Noster High.
Bakersfield dominated the women's competition in the WSC last season, placing three runners among the top four. It went on to place third in the state, but only Kathy Sweo, its fifth-best runner last year, returns.
"Moorpark is favored right now," Lopez said. "I think we have a chance of winning conference. We have the talent. The key is how well our fourth and fifth runners come through."
Glendale has not won a women's cross-country title since 1981 when the Vaqueros went on to place fourth in the state.
Glendale returns its top two runners, Nicole Jimenez, the WSC champion, and Sophia Hill, who placed ninth in the conference meet last season.
Blanca Gutierrez, a City Section semifinalist for Garfield High at 1,600 meters last May, Hedieh Nourbik and Jesse Lobo are expected to round out the top five.