HOLMDEL _ West Morris coach Jay Herrigel caught a glimpse of Sierra Castaneda at the one-mile mark of the Group III race.
"Sierra was just off the lead. She was right there," Herrigel said.
A mile and a half later, Castaneda, the two-time Morris County champion and favorite to come out on top at Holmdel, fell while running downhill. She scrambled to get back on her feet and settled for third behind Mainland's Alyssa Aldridge and Julia Guerra of Indian Hills.
"I just lost control," said Castaneda, who finished in 19:01. "When I fell, I laughed at myself and thought 'Oh, man.' I was trying to get second when I fell. After I got up, the other runners were too far ahead to catch."
Castaneda, a senior, had wounds to her left knee. Because she was among the top 10 in her event, she'll return to Holmdel Park next weekend to compete in the Meet of Champions.
Parsippany's Ally Schlosser, who signed a letter of intent to attend Boston University a few days earlier, will not have that opportunity. Schlosser did not fare well, either, finishing 13th in the Group II race that kicked off the day's events. Her finish will keep her from the MOC.
"I just had a bad day," Schlosser said. "No excuses. It was the first cold day of the year. It was tough to breathe. The wind was holding you back."
The winds swirled through the park. Schlosser said she felt them the most on the straightaway after the bowl.
"The wind was whipping. It was very bad," she said. "Sometimes, you felt great. Other times, it pushed you around."
Schlosser began the the race intending to stay with Shannon Goria of River Dell, who had times similar to hers at Holmdel. She felt strong on the grass at the very beginning then "my legs froze and I began cramping up."
"This is tough," Schlosser said. "I'm a senior leader so I have a smile on my face. I really can't hide it. I am disappointed."
Also headed back to Holmdel are Mendham, which repeated as the team champion in Group III, and Mary Lynch and her Villa Walsh teammates.
Pacing the Minutemen were Elizabeth Timoney (15th, 19:59), Lucy Jeffs (21st, 20:12) and Megan Timoney (26th, 20:17). Lynch crossed the finish line in 20:13, taking first place, to power the Vikings to the Non-Public B crown.
Castaneda had never fallen in such a big race. The only other time she went down, she said, was in "a low-key invitational."
She's still happy that she qualified for the MOC and vowed to be ready.
"We'll clean up Sierra's wounds, get some Neosporin on them," Herrigel said. "At least she made it through to next week. That was her main goal. I think she'll be more determined than ever."
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