HOLMDEL _ The plan was carefully thought out and made Sierra Castaneda, not considered a favorite despite a fine season, a champion.
Castaneda, of West Morris, received instructions from coach Jay Herrigel to use three quarters of her energy in the first two thirds of the Group III race at Holmdel Park on Saturday, Nov. 15.
The junior complied, following the plan exceptionally well. Castaneda cruised through the course in 18:22, three seconds ahead of Northern Highlands' Catherine Pagano.
Not only did Castaneda triumph, she avenged a second-place finish to Pagano at the Shore Invitational.
"I'm a little shocked," Castaneda said. "The race was really competitive. There was a point when Catherine was 50 meters ahead. I just had to try and hang on."
Mendham, with freshman Hope Tiboni leading the charge, took top honors in Group III for the third time in five years.
Herrigel knew that Pagano likes to go out fast. He wanted Castaneda to go out well, too, and "keep contact with the front."
Castaneda did but had difficulty gaining position in the tight pack that headed into the woods after the first mile. Once she entered The Bowl, she spotted Pagano 50 meters ahead. Going up the next hill, Castaneda passed Pagano.
"Once I got in front of (Pagano), I died and she overtook me," Castaneda said. "I tried to stay with her."
At the last hill, Castaneda went into overdrive and surged past Pagano, who had not lost a race this fall, and stayed in front.
"The last part of the race is all downhill," Herrigel said. "I wanted Sierra to use gravity to her advantage. She stuck to the plan flawlessly. She was the underdog and not supposed to win."
The Meet of Champions lies ahead and Castaneda, who will attend back-to-back swimming practices for her high school and club teams on Monday, wants to keep going strong.
"Being in the Meet of Champions means everything," she said. "I'm going to go out and have fun and see what I can do."
Mendham got its team points based on the performances of two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior.
"This is really exciting," said Timoney, the sophomore who was 13th in a personal record time of 6:22. "We knew it was possible and we wanted to qualify for the MOC. We're youg so we're going to get better every year. We have lots of potential and will improve.
"We knew every place would have to count. I kept thinking of that during the race. We had to do our best."
Randolph's Margaret Thompson was seventh and Christine O'Kane of Morristown was ninth in Group IV. Parsippany's Ally Schlosser had the best showing among Morris County runners in Group II. Schlosser was 11th in 19:37. In Group I, Therese Olshanski of Mountain Lakes was 11th in 20:31.
Mary Lynch (third) and Julie DiGirolamo (seventh) were in the top 10 for Villa Walsh, which claimed the team title in Non-Public B.
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