Olympic hopefuls win top honors

By Tadzio Garcia

East Los Angeles College’s long distance runners freshman Laura Aceves and sophomore Gonzalo Ceja each ran top-10 national times in track and field during the 2013-2014 season.

For this and other accomplishments, they were recognized with top honors at the ELAC cross country and track and field awards banquet June 26, with additional awards presented to athletes June 30.

This was a banner year for ELAC in both cross country and track and field winning the most medals and awards in over a decade from the South Coast Conference and the CCCAA.

From the SCC, SoCal and the state, the Huskies won a combined 17 medals as well as 17 separate recognition awards, both the most by ELAC in over a decade.

For the first time since the 1972-73 season, lettermen pins were presented to athletes who placed top eight in track and field (scoring position) or top seven for cross country.

Less than half of the 50 athletes combined from both teams received recognition awards.

Grade point average recognition awards from the CCCAA and the ELAC Athletic Department were also given out. GPA awards from ELAC, according to the counseling department, were based on GPA and the difficulty of classes students enrolled in.

Louis Ramirez, head coach for both programs, stressed that academics are the most important reason that athletes are enrolled at ELAC.

Sophomore and long distance runner Andrew Torres won Academic Scholar Athlete of the Year at ELAC of all Husky athletes in all sports. He was also named to the California Community College Athletic Association All-Scholar team.

Torres unselfishly stopped mid-race at the SoCal Preview, Sept. 13 in Santa Clarita, to help an unknown runner who had passed out while other runners ran by the motionless athlete. “I couldn’t leave him there, he could have been seriously injured,” Torres said.

At the SoCal Championships on Nov. 8, also in Santa Clarita, Torres ran the race of his life and helped ELAC advance to state as one of the final two teams.

“He told me that day, we were going to make it to the state finals then he helped us qualify and we did,” Ramirez said.

“We lose Andrew in cross country, who is transferring ( Humboldt State University) and other top men (Ceja and Kris Chacon), but we will make state this year with a strong team of returnees and recruits,” Ramirez said.

“Ten of 12 women return and will be stronger,” Ramirez said.

Aceves said one of her biggest goals is for the women’s team to qualify for the state finals.

If so, it will be the first time in several years that both teams make state.

Aceves, a Ramirez recruit, and Ceja, a walk on, joined both ELAC teams with similar situations. Neither had previously run in organized competition.

“A year ago I was working and never dreamed I would be in college here at ELAC and running with the teams, but here I graciously am,” Aceves said.

Two years ago, Ceja asked to join the cross country team. “I heard the team ran in the hills so I thought I would try running to build strength, keeping in mind I am going to be a firefighter working in the hills one day,” Ceja said.

Both followed strategic instructions that would have them run their fastest times at the end of each semester.

As a result for Aceves, she was the cross country champion at the 2013 state meet, the first from ELAC to win the title since Sylvia Mosqueda’s victory in 1984. Mosqueda’s time that year of 17:06 minutes is still a California community college state meet record. Aceves won in 17:45.73.

“Laura listened each week to build endurance, followed our instructions perfectly and won the cross country title as a result. She would ask questions and focus on improving her times instead of winning races. This was a sign of an intelligent athlete,” David Loera, assistant coach for both programs, said.

Aceves won the 2013 SCC Women’s Athlete of the Year in cross country.

In track and field, she ran undefeated against community college women during the regular season in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs and the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

She ran the top time in the nation in the 10,000 run in the Occidental College Distance Carnival on March 14. A day later, she ran the fastest time in the nation in the 5,000 run in the Cal State Fullerton Ben Brown Invitational. It was the first time ever that she competed in these events.

For all her accomplishments, Aceves won the 2014 SCC Women’s Athlete of the Year in track and field.

“When we were told she won, I tried to remember how many first place titles she won at the SCC Championships. It was none because she had already qualified for SoCal in her best events. She did however, get two second place finishes (1,500-meter and 5,000 runs) and a third place finish (800-meter run),” Ramirez said.

Sophomore Gonzalo Ceja won two events at the SCC Championships, the 5,000 run and the steeplechase. As a result, he was awarded SCC Male Athlete of the Meet. He is the first ELAC double-gold medal winner at SoCal since Oscar Ogwaro in 2007.

Ogwaro won the 10,000 and 5,000 runs and the steeplechase in the 2007 SoCal and state championship meets.

Last year Ceja predicted the men’s cross country team would advance to state and he would be a champion in track and field. “When he says he’s going to get something done, he does,” Ramirez said.

His steeplechase win at the SoCal Championships is the ninth fastest time in the nation.

“Also, with our times at the beginning of the season, there was no way we were going to state in cross country. Ceja was instrumental in getting the guys to believe that they could,” Ramirez said.

The men’s team upset rival Los Angeles Trade Tech College at the state finals in Fresno.

“The Trade Tech coach told them not to run with ELAC runners, right in front of us, because we were too slow at the SCC finals. They didn’t and we beat them. We were determined,” Ceja said.

Ceja and sophomore long distance runner Daniel Zaragoza each won the Most Valuable Athlete award in men’s track and field.

Special inspiration awards of Olympic collector memorabilia were presented to the athletes who recorded top national times, Aceves, Ceja and Zaragoza.

“These are tokens of something that I hope will inspire all three of you,” Ramirez told the three athletes.

Ramirez hinted of them working towards qualifying for the Olympic trials. After training and competing in the steeplechase for only six months, Aceves is 58.66 seconds short of an Olympic “B” standard time.

In only 1.5 years of steeplechase training and competition, Ceja has trimmed 1:12.21 minutes off is time to come within 48.99 seconds from an Olympic “A” standard time; 35.99 seconds from a “B” Olympic standard time.

Zaragoza is 1:45.50 off his an Olympic “B” standard time in the 5,000 run.. He trimmed 1:31.01 off his time after one year of competing in the event.

Recent Huskies who qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials were Ogwaro, in the marathon and 10,000 run, and Kenneth Medwood in the 400-meter hurdles. Medwood, also a CCCAA state champion in track and field, advanced to the 2012 Olympic semifinals in the 400 hurdles.

Sophomore thrower Adriann Crespo took top honors for throwers in track and field. She advanced to SoCal two consecutive years, even though the track and field team did not have access at ELAC to a weight room this past year.

“I was motivated to coach her. She inspired the team and never complained, even in our situation,” Ernesto Zuniga, track and field throwers coach, said.

Sophomore Kris Chacon survived a shooter-on-campus incident at California State University Los Angeles to finish as the No. 2 man for ELAC at the cross country state finals. He accepted the most improved award for the men’s cross country team.

Chacon was enrolled as a fulltime student at both ELAC and CSULA for two years because CSULA does not sport a cross country team.

2012 three-time All-American Shawnta Barnes received a special recognition award. Barnes competes for California State University, Northridge track and field team.

CROSS COUNTRY AWARDS

All-American
Aceves

CCCAA All-Scholar Team
Torres

CCCAA Athlete of the Month
Aceves (Nov. 2013)

CCCAA All-Women’s First Team
Aceves

CCCAA state, SoCal or SCC Medalists
Aceves (3)
Ceja (1)

SCC Athlete of the Year
Aceves

South Coast All-Conference First Team
Aceves (women’s), Ceja (men’s)

Other All-Meet First Teams
Aceves (Rio Hondo, SoCal Preview, Golden West, San Diego, Mt. SAC Invite)
Ceja (Rio Hondo)

ELAC All-Academic Achievement Awards
Annai Jimenez (3.5 GPA)
Andres Rosas, Torres

Most Valuable Athlete
Aceves
Ceja

Letterman Award
Aceves, Ruby Padilla, Guadalupe Yanez
Ceja, Chacon, Cristian Flores, Torres

Coaches Awards
Padilla

Most Improved Awards
Yanez, Chacon

Recognition Awards
Sandy Bautista, Viridiana Hernandez, Amy Herrera, Jimenez, Padilla, Ivonne Rodriguez Dicio, Laura Torres-Toledo
Jesse Bonilla, Ceja, Chacon, Flores, Rosas, Torres

TRACK AND FIELD AWARDS

All-American
Aceves (steeplechase, 10,000 run), Ceja (steeplechase)

CCCAA All-Scholar Team
Torres

CCCAA Athlete of the Month
Aceves, Ceja (both honorable mention, both in May, 2014)

CCCAA All-Conference Team
Aceves, Ceja

CCCAA state, SoCal or SCC Medalists
Aceves (8), Crespo (1)
Ceja (4)

SoCal Semifinalists/Finalists Recognition
Aceves, Crespo, Viridiana Hernandez, Padilla
Ceja, Chacon, Flores, Luis Hernandez, Jimmy Palencia, Romo, Robert Villafan (alternate)

SCC Athlete of the Year
Aceves

SCC Championships, Athlete of the Meet
Ceja

ELAC Scholar Athlete of the Year (all Sports)
Torres

ELAC All-Academic Awards
Aceves (3.27 GPA), Viridiana Hernandez, Herrera
Ceja, Jovanny Gochez (3.5), Torres, William Hang (3.78)

ELAC Athletic Department Awards
Crespo ($1,000 Trainer’s Award)
Ceja ($500 Ben Clyde Davidson Award)

Most Valuable Athlete
Aceves, Ceja, Zaragoza

Letterman Award
Aceves, Bautista, Crespo, Viridiana Hernandez, Herrera, Padilla
Ceja, Chacon, Luis Hernandez, Jorge Romo, Rosas, Villafan, Zaragoza

Coaches Award
Jessica Herrera

Most Improved Award
Viridiana Hernandez (track), Jessica Herrera (field)
Flores

Special Athlete Award
Crespo

Special Inspiration Awards
Aceves, Ceja, Zaragoza

Recognition Awards
Crespo, Viridiana Hernandez, Herrera, Padilla, Maybell Sanchez
Chacon, Luis Hernandez, Abraham Islas, David Jimenez, Carlos Lopez, Palencia, Romo, Torres, Villafan

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