PARSIPPANY _ Sierra Castaneda could feel the heat, hear the footsteps and that was just fine.
West Morris' Castaneda actually very much liked the fact that Abby Loveys of Randolph was right behind her for a good portion of the Morris County Girls Cross Country Championship Race.
"Abby pushed me," Castaneda said. "She was close for awhile. I guess it was a little nerve wracking but that was OK. I was going to run until I didn't hear footsteps."
Castaneda, a senior, pulled away from Loveys, a freshman, at the two-and-a-half-mile mark and crossed the finish line in a personal-best 18:06.56 to take her second consecutive county title on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Central Park.
Strangely enough, Loveys, who ran 18:18.57, felt that Castaneda pushed her.
"Sierra helped me. She really pushed me even though I was chasing her," Loveys said.
Ally Schlosser of Parsippany was third in 18:38.88, another PR, followed by Anna George of Montville, who traversed the course in 18:42.76. In fifth was Alexandra Christian of Mount Olive. Christian had a time of 18:47.82.
Mendham, the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Large Schools Champion, claimed top team honors with 64 points. The Minutemen had four runners - Elizabeth Timoney (7th), Defne Sement (8th), Megan Timoney (9th) and Lucy Jeffs (16th) - in the top 16. Rob Kertesz, the Mendham coach, noted that his varsity runners posted their best times. The junior varsity team, led by Kristine Briney and Jillian Bellows, was first as well.
Sophomore Olivia Vizzini took 1:20 off her previous PR, which was 21:12. Vizzini was 25th overall.
"This was a day when we really showed up to race," Kertesz said. "There were so many PRs. It's nice to do that in a championship race. Everyone was pumped up and ready to go."
Castaneda bid farewell to Central Park with a strong showing. She wanted a 5:40 split for the first mile and achieved it. She did two miles in 11:27, better than the goal she set for herself. However, the last mile was a bit difficult for Castaneda. She had difficulty breathing because of sports-induced allergies.
"I need to work on that last mile," she said.
On Monday night, Castaneda, who intended to celebrate her victory with steak and "lots of ice cream," chose to forego some of her homework in order to get a full night's sleep. She went to bed at 10:30 p.m. and woke up at 6 a.m.
"I'm so happy," she said. "I couldn't be more excited. I'm looking forward to the sectionals and the rest of the season."
Loveys went into the race more nervous than usual.
"I just kept thinking about it," Loveys said. "I tried not to be nervous but I was in the days leading up to this. I was even worse today."
That didn't affect her performance as she stayed close to Castaneda. She was breathing heavily at two and a half miles but persevered. Loveys also battled through a cramp in her side.
"This is a surprise. I'm excited," Loveys said. "Everyone here is really, really good. The conditions were great. I just wanted to do the best I could for my team."
Schlosser was favored to win the NJAC Small Schools Race last week but had to drop out after she became dizzy and felt like her throat was closing off. That's why she was elated with her finish.
"I am insanely pleased," Schlosser said. "I wanted to make up for what happened. I was disappointed that I was unable to defend. I ran well today. I heard a coach say I did the first mile in 5:49. I've never been that fast. I knew I was moving. I said 'Let's keep this going.'"
At the final bend, Schlosser passed George. She expected a burst out of the talented freshman yet she held her position.
"This was my best race ever," said Schlosser, who saw a doctor and was informed she likely has seasonal or exercise-induced asthma. "I feel so great. This means the world after last week."
Vizzini and the Minutemen were among the last to leave, posing for pictures and fawning over their trophy. There were several keys to her excellent race.
"It's mostly a mental game," Vizzini said. "You have to run your own race and have a positive attitude. I tried to not go out too fast. I maintained a pace then I sped up and kicked it in. I looked ahead. I didn't keep my head down. I'm proud of the whole team."
For complete results, see mctrack.org.
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
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