By Nick Giannandrea
It's been close to a decade since College of the Sequoias last produced a men's cross country All-American.
Ismael Ramirez is aiming end that drought.
"I've wanted to become an All-American since the beginning of the season," said Ramirez, a freshman out of Redwood High. "It's definitely a goal of mine."
Pursuit of that goal will continue during the Central Valley Conference championships Friday at Fresno's Woodward Park. The women's race is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m., with the men following at 9:15 a.m.
Ramirez has been the Giants' top runner all season, finishing in the top 11 in each of COS' five races this season.
His best result came Oct. 5 at the Jim Middleton Invitational in Redding, a meet considered to be a preview to the Northern California Championships on Nov. 2, also in Redding. Ramirez ran a season-best 20:44.9 to finish third out of a field of 118.
He also placed 10th at the Mt. SAC Invite on Oct. 14, a meet that drew top runners from across the state.
A top 14 finish at the California Community College Championships on Nov. 17 at Woodward Park is needed to earn All-American honors.
"He's been doing his workouts and mentally preparing himself," said Giants coach David Sanchez, who, along with teammate Joseph Rivera, were the last COS runners to earn All-American honors in 2009. "So far his work ethic has proven he should be ready at state to make his goal happen. I believe he has a lot more in him to run."
Ramirez arrived at COS after establishing himself as one of the state's top runners while at Redwood, where he was a two-time CIF State Championships qualifier. Ramirez was 95th in Division II and 317th out of 990 runners overall as a junior, and 51st in D-II and 132nd out of 996 overall as a senior.
He placed 11th in 21:44.1 during his first race for COS at the Fresno City College Invitational on Sept. 8, followed that by placing fourth in 20:53.0 during the Coyote Challenge in San Bernardino on Sept. 22 and won the Modesto Junior College Invitational in 21:05.1 on Sept. 28.
"He's shown consistency," Sanchez said. "He's bound to do some great things. I think he's ready for a big race."
As the season draws to a close, Sanchez is working with Ramirez on setting a faster pace and trying to get him to peak at the state meet.
"I feel like training is going really well," Ramirez said. "Coach has given me really good workouts. He really knows what he's doing."
Ramirez is working toward running in the 20:30.0 range at the state meet.
"I love competing and getting better and seeing my times improve," Ramirez said.
Ramirez plans to run distance events for the COS track team in the fall. He set the Redwood school record in the 800 as a senior.
His ultimate goal is earning a scholarship to run for a four-year university, where he plans to major in computer science.
Ramirez appears to be a top contender to win individual race, while the Giants' men will face tough competition from upstart Clovis Community College in the team competition during the Central Valley Conference championships.
COS - which also features sophomore David Roderick (Redwood), freshman Oscar Perez (Dinuba), freshman Joel Garcia (Monache), freshman Luciano Linares (Exeter), freshman Christian Gonzalez (Corcoran), freshman Leonardo Jimenez (Dinuba) and sophomore Zachary Lopez (Kingsburg) - are ranked tied for 14th in the state and No. 5 in Northern California. Clovis is unranked in the state, but No. 4 in Northern California.
For the women, COS sophomore Lidia Briseno, a sophomore from John F. Kennedy High in San Fernando, is the favorite to win individually. The Giants, who also feature freshman Courtney Santos (Hanford West), sophomore Victoria Cota (Corcoran), freshman Viviana Corralejo (Exeter) and freshman Priscilla Sanchez (Farmersville), are ranked No. 10 in NorCal. Clovis is No. 5.