PARSIPPANY _ Mary Lynch and the Villa Walsh cross country coaches sat in a basement room in the school's gymnasium and considered the possibilities.
"Maybe you can be first," one of the coaches said to Lynch, referring to the upcoming Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Small Schools Race. Another one reminded her that "Anything can happen." In short order, Lynch, began to believe what seemed impossible.
After some serious thinking, the thought was dismissed. After all, Parsippany's Ally Schlosser was heavily favored to repeat and had been dominant this fall.
However, Schlosser dropped out of the race at the two-mile mark when her "throat closed" and she felt dizzy. Lynch, in third and 60 meters behind Schlosser at the time of the incident, felt terrible but ran to victory, crossing the finish line in 19:25.02, a personal record, on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at Central Park. Villa Walsh took the NJAC Small Schools team championship with 40 points.
"This is all so unexpected for me," Lynch said. "We did talk about it but... I got stressed out right after I saw Ally go off to the side and fall into her coach's arms. We were all vying for a spot then. I thought 'This is my chance.' I couldn't lose speed. Winning today is incredible. I never imagined I could get first."
In the NJAC-Large Schools Race, West Morris senior Sierra Castaneda claimed her second consecutive title, recording a time of 18:21.11. Mendham, with Defne Sement, Lucy Jeffs and Elizabeth Timoney in the top six, captured top team honors.
Villa Walsh coach Mary Ehmann congratulated Lynch, putting her skull and crossbones scarf around the triumphant runner's neck. Soon, the rest of the Vikings surrounded Lynch, a Summit resident.
"It was great for Mary but I was sad to see Ally go down," Ehmann said. "Ally has been at the forefront for small schools. This is a good morale boost for Mary. She's been lacking confidence. We expected to see her under 20 minutes and she did it."
According to Ehmann, Lynch had a dream that she'd beat her previous PR, which was 20:08. That reverie proved true.
Lynch, a senior, said she "usually goes out too fast and regrets it." She went out in 6:08 - too fast - but figured she'd be OK. She felt extraordinarily zoned in.
"My mind wanders during races," Lynch said. "I focused in on my breathing and that helped."
Nothing, though, could help her feel better about Schlosser.
"We see each other and hug after the races," Lynch said. "Ally waits for everyone and gives them a big hug. She's one of the nicest people ever."
Schlosser returned to her team's canopy after exiting the race and was consoled by her teammates. Later, the Red Hawks standout spotted Lynch and embraced her.
"I've had some nicks and pains recently," Schlosser said. "I couldn't keep going and it was really scary. I had to stop. This is really disappointing, especially because I'm a senior. When I regained my senses, I was hoping to hear them announce Mary's name and they did."
The Vikings were team champions because of the performances of Sophie Henderson (7th), Morgan Mehmel (9th) and Julia DiGirolamo (10th). Henderson completed the course in 20:03.96.
Castaneda, suffering from a head cold and sinus problems, hasn't felt her best since Holmdel. Her workout last Friday was one of her best in awhile.
"I'm not fully back," she said. "I was every sick. I just haven't felt like myself. My goal today was to go sub 18:30 and defend the title. It feels really good to win again. There's some awesome competition."
The challenge came from several freshmen, namely Randolph's Abby Loveys, the runner-up in 18:32.64, and Montville's Anna George, third in 19:06.02. Castaneda broke away on the first hill of the second lap.
"It was tough to get my legs moving," Castaneda said. "At the second mile, I tried to pull away. I decided to see what I had at the end."
Castaneda was up late on Monday. She had swimming practice until 8 p.m. then did her homework and studied for a psychology test until 12:30 a.m. When she tried to sleep, she worried about the NJAC.
As it turned out, Castaneda had nothing to fret about. She was glad for the ninth graders and wished them well.
"They are so, so good and I'm happy for them," Castaneda said. "They're going to be representing Morris County for awhile. I can't wait to see how they progress. They'll have lots of shots to win in the future."
Loveys indicated that this would be her last winter playing ice hockey but she's not quitting to participate in winter track. She said that ice hockey aided in building stamina and making her legs stronger.
She's had a fine freshman season yet Castaneda was "tiny and in the distance" in the NJAC Large Schools Race. Loveys, of course, was thrilled to be second.
"I'm very excited," Loveys said. "This makes me want to work harder. In the beginning of the race today, I was pushed by a lot of people. That kept me going. I wanted to do the best I could for my teammates. They're all really nice."
Loveys had no real trouble spots. She was breathing a bit heavy and had tired legs, nothing to be concerned about.
"I paced myself and stayed steady," Loveys said.
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
LARGE SCHOOLS RESULTS
Teams: Mendham 53, Randolph 81, Roxbury 88, Pope John 121, Chatham 129
1. Sierra Castaneda, West Morris, 18:21.11; 2. Abby Loveys, Randolph, 18:32.64; 3. Anna George, Montville, 19:06.02; 4. Defne Sement, Mendham, 19:14.74; 5. Lucy Jeffs, Mendham, 19:19.76: 6. Elizabeth Timoney, Mendham, 19:21.51; 7. Alexandra Christian, Mount Olive, 19:23.02; 8. Julia Herraiz, Roxbury, 19:36.79; 9. Anna Campbell, Pope John, 19:37.61; 10. Alexandra Frenzel, Chatham 19:38.84.
SMALL SCHOOLS RESULTS
Teams: Villa Walsh 40, Mountain Lakes 95, Kinnelon 109, North Warren 124, Wallkill Valley 212
1. Mary Lynch, Villa Walsh, 19:25.02; 2. Nicole Ohannesian, North Warren, 19:43.42; 3. Ally Lame, Wallkill Valley, 19:46.37; 4. Emily Szalai, Jefferson, 19:50.32; 5. Angelina Tarabokija, Kinnelon, 19:51.59; 6. Rose Ippolito, Newton, 20:02.23; 7. Sophie Henderson, Villa Walsh, 20:03.96; 8. Kyra Velock, Mountain Lakes, 20:13.02; 9. Morgan Mehmel, Villa Walsh, 20:13.92. 10. Julia DiGirolamo, Villa Walsh, 20:17.88.
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