PARSIPPANY _ Sierra Castaneda's schedule isn't for those lacking focus, purpose or energy.
Castaneda, a West Morris High School junior, was a year-round swimmer first then added in cross country and track a year ago so her days are jampacked. Not only are there athletic activities, she takes high-level classes that require much homework.
It's no surprise then that Castaneda's mother, Denise, reminded her, as always, to get a good night's sleep when she returned from swim practice after 8 p.m. on Monday.
A little more than 20 hours later, Castaneda was on the course at Central Park at Greystone competing in the Morris County Cross Country Championships on Tuesday, Oct. 28. She showed no signs of fatigue, cruising past the field in 18:29.76.
"I was relaxed. Nothing was bothering me," Castaneda said. "I always have a lot going on, a lot of homework. I'm always busy. I'm amazed by all of this."
The only thing that concerned Castaneda was the warm weather as the temperature reached 74 degrees. She prefers cooler days for running.
"My coach (Jay Herrigel) told me not to think about things I can't control," Castaneda said. "Actually, the weather was fine."
Second-place finisher Hope Tiboni, a freshman from Mendham, was with Castaneda for the first mile. Tiboni was so close that Castaneda could actually hear her breathing. At the first uphill at the start of the second mile, Castaneda turned it up.
"I wanted to go out faster than usual," Castaneda said. "I wanted to get in front and hold on. I went out in 5:45 (actually 5:57.2)."
Castaneda, who swims the 500 freestyle and 200IM for the Wolfpack, attends swimming practice at Centenary College in Hackettstown after cross country workouts then returns home and does schoolwork.
"Sierra is an intelligent girl with a heavy workload," Herrigel said. "She somehow manages to get it all done."
Herrigel said that a "balance of quality workouts and the right amount of rest" have made Castaneda into a champion.
"Sierra is valuing her recovery days more," Herrigel said. "She's seeing that rest is as important as hard workouts. I'm proud of her. Goals were to win the county, conference and section. She's accomplished two of the three things and could be top five in the state, too."
Tiboni, seventh in the NJAC Large Schools Race a week earlier, had a PR of 18:40.07, lowering her time by 24 seconds.
"I learned how to work the second loop better," she said. "I've been racing seniors, juniors and sophomores who are more experienced and have extra training so I had to dig in harder. I picked up more endurance.
"I wouldn't have been able to push myself or reach my potential without Sierra."
So, why didn't Tiboni attempt to pass Castaneda when she was a footstep or two behind her?
"I guess it was the fear of the unknown," Tiboni said. "The confidence is there but I am still building it. I have to try and pick that up."
Randolph, aided by the efforts of two freshmen, claimed the team title, its fifth in seven years, by having five runners among the top 16.
The freshmen, Brooke Olson and Kate Gihorski, were 10th and 16th, respectively. Olson crossed the finish line in 19:14.27 while Gihorski completed the course in 19:31.40.
Rams senior Margaret Thomson was fourth in 18:49.93. Another senior, Carole Harsch, was right behind her, clocking in with a 18:50.23. Nora May McSorley, a junior, was eighth with a PR of 19:00.54.
"Winning as a team is the greatest," said Thomson. "I work with these girls every day. We start out in the heat of the summer. We all have a common goal. It's so rewarding. We are so happy about this."
At last week's NJAC Championships, Mendham took first among the large schools, beating out Randolph, 61-73. Part of the difference was the return of Olson, who missed the NJAC Meet due to a calf injury.
"All of the titles are special," Rams co-coach Kevin Higgins said. "I get as nervous as the girls each time. I feel it in my stomach at the start of the race and into the first mile.
"Today, we took control and held onto it. The girls remained tough. It was a no-doubt-about-it win. Margaret had a lot of confidence, catching all but the top three. Margaret sometimes downplays her chances then exceeds all expectations."
Higgins said McSorley, who has asthma, used a different warmup and it seemed to help her.
"Nora May did a more vigorous warmup," he said. "She did some striders before to try and open up her lungs."
Olivia Viparina of Roxbury was third in 18:43.01. Sixth place went to Mount Olive's Alexandra Christian (18:58.63). Rounding out the top 10 were Emma Cary of Morristown, McSorley, Elizabeth Timoney of Mendham and Olson.
Still, the team honors were relished most by Thomson.
"I have my teammates next to me," Thomson said. "My mindset is the same and that is to help the team. You can't feel dead. You have to place up high for your teammates."
There would be no team celebration, though, for the Rams, who prefer Italian food, after the meet because there was homework to do.
"That's OK," Thomson said. "We'll go another day."
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