By the time Jeff Nelson hit the finish line to win the individual portion of the 1980 state championship cross country meet at Griffith Park, the pressure was starting to ease to bring the Vaqueros the team title.
The team that had only one returning runner from the 1979 team and had lost the state title by just one point the previous season was just minutes away from putting that bitter memory to rest. Freshman R.C. Guzman from Burroughs High hit the tape two minutes after Nelson and then Joe Lopez came in almost right behind Guzman. Burt Shirley and Mauro Rivero did their jobs by finishing in the top five and the victory was sealed.
The Vaqueros ran faster than the competition that season, and lost only one meet, which was the Moorpark Invitational. A lot of factors and a little bit of luck contributed to winning the team’s third state championship in cross country that decade. They also won championships in 1974 and 1976 and also won state titles in 1995 and 1998.
“Our training paid off. I knew we’d win,’’ said Tansley, in the El Vaquero newspaper, following the victory. “The team really fired up on all cylinders.” The head coach was obviously correct as the Vaqueros scored 68 points to win by over 30 points over Ventura and San Bernardino
The team did lose 15 of the 16 runners from 1979, with only Rivero returning from that squad in 1980. Former head cross country coach Tom McMurray left coaching for private business and head track coach John Tansley took over the team after a one year sabbatical.
While there seemed to be many factors stacked against Glendale winning the state championship in 1980, Glendale also had a lot going for them, namely the return of Nelson and a talented group of freshman who were among the top five runners throughout the season.
Nelson, from Burbank High and a two-time state champion in 1978 and 1979 in the 2-mile, transferred to Glendale College after spending the fall of 1979 at the University of Oregon. He injured his ankle and opted to return home. Regaining his health and the form that made him one of the top distance runners in the nation was critical to Glendale’s title hopes in 1980.
One critical point which may be lost in the record books is that in the magical season of 1980, the Vaquero men and women’s cross country teams became the first teams in community college history to win state championships in the same season. To this day, that GCC record still stands.