By Nick Giannandrea
Ismael Ramirez faced a difficult decision.
Heading into the stretch run at the California Community College Cross Country Championships, Ramirez, who was battling a cold, could play it safe and improve on his eighth-place finish from last season.
Or, the College of the Sequoias' sophomore could go all out for a shot at joining an exclusive club of Giants' runners, knowing if his kick didn't kick in, he could lose his grip on second place.
With 100 meters left, Ramirez made his move and inched ahead of San Diego Mesa's Stefen Rasmuson to win the men's individual title on Nov. 23 at Fresno's Woodward Park.
"I told him how bad do you want this thing," COS coach David Sanchez said. "You're going to be hurting. But when you want something good, in your career, challenges in life, whatever, to get ahead of the obstacle you have to face a fear. His fear was do I stay content and settle for second or should I take over and win this race. The last 100 meters of the kick was the biggest pain he's been through, but it paid off."
Ramirez crossed the finish line of the 4-mile, 127-runner race in 20:14.0. Rasmuson, who was fifth at the state meet last season, was a second behind in 20:15.0.
"I'm really excited. All the hard work I put in paid off," Ramirez said. "It was really tough. It hurt really bad. But hearing the crowd, I just went for it. I didn't want to give up."
Ramirez joins Mario Macias (2000) and Juan Garcia (1976, small schools division) on the men's side, and Alyssa Block (2017) and Renee Ortiz-Wykoff (1979 and 1981 large schools division) for the women to win state cross country titles at COS.
Ramirez was just 3 seconds off Macias' school-record time of 21:11 on the Woodward Park course.
"This means a lot to me," Ramirez said. "Me and my coach have been working hard for this."
Ramirez entered the state championships having run the fastest time between the Northern California and Southern California Regional qualifying races. Ramirez covered the course at Salinas' Toro Park in 19:56.1 to win the NorCal title, while Rasmuson won the SoCal title in 20:49.2 at Mission Bay Park in San Diego.
"I was really confident," Ramirez said. "I kept telling myself that I could do it and win. NorCal was definitely a confidence booster."
Rasmuson held the slimmest of leads through the first three miles. Rasmuson was ahead by 0.1 seconds through the checkpoints at miles two and three. But Ramirez covered the fourth mile in 4:55.7 compared to 4:56.8 for Rasmuson.
"Throughout the whole race, I just sat right behind the leader and worked from the shadows," said Ramirez, who is being recruited by West Texas A&M, Metro State, Cal State East Bay, Long Beach State, Chico State and Sacramento State. "And then at the end, I just went into another gear."
San Diego Mesa's Isaiah Labra repeated his third-place finish from last season, crossing the line more than 15 seconds behind Ramirez in 20:30.4 to lead the Olympians to the men's team title with 37 points. NorCal champion American River was second with 65 points.
COS finished sixth as a team with 232 points, bolstered by an eighth-place finish from Oscar Perez. The sophomore from Dinuba finished in 20:48.5 to join Ramirez as All-Americans.
The Giants also had Evan Loftin (El Diamante) finish 54h in 21:51.1, Chrisian Gonzales (Corcoran) finish 95th in 22:89.6, Zackary Woods (Frontier-Bakersfield) finish 102nd in 22:21.4 and Luciano Linares (Exeter) finish 103rd in 22:22.0.
COS did not have a runner in the women's 3.1-mile race, which was won by Moorpark's Sophia Cortina in 18:27.6.