Cross country coach Eddie Perez, evidently saw something in Lily Hernandez and Ana Rodriguez when he recruited the runners onto his team while they were still in high school.
Rodriguez and Hernandez both attended local Glendale high schools as rival runners, but are now supportive running mates. The two cross country runners have put themselves on the map by earning title after title while leading the Vaqueros closer to victory.
When Rodriguez attended Glendale High School she was known as one of the top cross country runners in her league, which included Crescenta Valley and Hoover High School. On the other hand, Hernandez who was a student at Hoover High School, was a better track runner than a cross country runner, according to Perez.
“When I recruited her [Hernandez] at the league finals in Arcadia she just wanted to run the mile,” said Perez.
However she has come a long way from that. The same athlete who preferred sticking to the one mile tracks was ranked third last year in the first team Western State Conference for cross country, which means having to run a 5,000 meter course.
The beginning of Rodriguez’s running career took off during her junior year of high school.
“I was in track and cross country. In track I ran the 1,600 [meter], 3,200 [meter] and a few other relays,” said Rodriguez.
She committed to the Vaqueros cross-country team right at the end of the season, while still in high school.
“I run just because I like it,” said Rodriguez.
Currently she is the number three runner for the Vaqueros and is closing the gap on Hernandez. Perez emphasizes the need to run together during meets as a tight group in order to keep the points low. He said if four runners are running together in the front and one is straggling way behind, the team could suffer a loss.
Even though the runners are ranked individually, the team depends on the place each runner earns. Each place has a certain number of points, with first place being the least amount. The goal of the team is to keep the points as low as possible in order to win. Rather than racking up the most points as a team, the object of cross country running is to run 5,000 meters while earning the least amount of points.
Both Rodriguez and Hernandez have kept their run times below 20 minutes. Rodriguez’s best time is 19 minutes, 12 seconds and Hernandez’s best time is 18 minutes, 37 seconds. Hernandez said that she hopes to break her time at state this year.
“They’re very positive and are always trying to get us to do better,” said Vanessa Silva, a two-year member of the cross country team. “Especially during practices, even if you’re not as fast as they are they always make you feel like you’re part of the team.”
According to Perez, it was not easy getting Hernandez to come to GCC. She had her mind set on going to Pasadena City College, but changed her mind after Rodriguez had committed to the team.
“I knew if I got Ana to come to GCC then Lily would too,” said Perez.
“I haven’t had two good local girls in a long time, so when you build a team you build it around the local runners,” said Perez.
Currently, Hernandez is the Vaquero’s number two runner.
“It’s hard to predict, but she should be in the top ten runners in the state,” said Perez. Being top ten means she will be on the second team All-American, showing improvement from last year where she had made fourth team All-American.
“I like being on cross country because it’s all about team work, it’s not just about me, it’s about everyone,” said Hernandez.
Last year the Vaquero’s took the win at the Western State Conference. They are ranked number one in the conference, partly because of Rodriguez and Hernandez, said Perez. Rodriguez was rated fourth in the last Western State Conference out of 75 runners from 13 schools.
The only team standing in the Vaquero’s way to unstoppable victory is the defending state champions, Orange Coast College. They have been carrying the title as champions for the past 10 years. The Vaqueros only loss to them was by a mere six points at the Cuesta Invitational last month.
To train for cross country, athletes often choose to partake in the track team as well by running the steeplechase event. The steeplechase is a 3,000-meter event where runners face obstacles such as barriers and water. Regardless of the 2,000-meter difference, the steeplechase helps train cross country runners by having them face similar obstacles. Hernandez and Rodriguez were both state qualifiers for the event with Hernandez placing fourth in the state.
“Most steeplechasers make good cross country runners. That’s why they’re doing well right now, the steeplechaser is cross country on the track,” said Perez. “Their background with the steeplechase helps them out with cross country.”
Both Rodriguez and Hernandez plan on transferring to Cal State LA and to continue running there. However Hernandez, who is a nursing major, said if she receives scholarship offers from other schools she may reconsider her decision to transfer to Cal State L.A.
“They’re going to have a very strong team when Lily and Ana run with them,” said Perez, if they both decide to go to Cal State L.A.