HOLMDEL _ Randolph freshman Abby Loveys, fittingly, was with Sierra Castaneda for much of the Meet of Champions race.
Loveys stuck with Castaneda, a West Morris senior, until the bowl, struggling briefly due to a cramp in her side.
It's clear that Loveys, who finished 12th at the MOC at Holmdel Park in a time of 18:52 on Saturday, Nov. 21, is one of the future stars of Morris County and, very likely, New Jersey cross country. Castaneda, the two-time Morris County champion, took 11th in 18:44 - one spot ahead of the 14-year-old Loveys. Alyssa Aldridge, a sophomore from Mainland, was the overall winner in 18:07.
After Castaneda and Loveys, the next highest Morris County finishers were Montville freshman Anna George (39th, 6:20) and Alexandra Christian of Mount Olive (41st, 19:42). Mendham sophomore Lucy Jeffs completed the course in 19:45 and was 43rd.
Mendham, with Jeffs and Elizabeth and Megan Timoney going 1-2-3, respectively, claimed sixth place among the teams with a 1:41.27. Ridge garnered the team title in 1:38.10.
Loveys was beaming after a solid race and was congratulated by family members, friends and other runners. It meant a lot for her to keep pace with Castaneda for much of the race.
"Sierra's really, really good," Loveys said. "I'm happy and excited. I'm going to keep working hard. I'm surprised by my finish today. I wanted to be in the top 20. It was a great experience to be here as a freshman. I'm proud about that."
A week ago, Castaneda fell going downhill at the two-and-a-half-mile mark and had to settle for third in Group III. She was one of the favorites to prevail in her group. Castaneda, of course, wanted to rebound with a stellar effort but did not perform as well as she hoped.
"I wanted to go out fast," Castaneda said. "I tried not to get sucked into the first pack. They just started passing me.
"I wanted to catch them and couldn't do it. My legs were dead. I was aiming for the top 10 and that didn't work out either."
For the entire week heading into the race, Loveys, who fueled up with pasta for dinner on Friday night and eggs for breakfast on Saturday morning, was nervous.
"I thought about the Meet of Champions a lot," she said.
On Saturday, Loveys was anxious as soon as she woke up. Her plan, once the race got underway, was "to find a pack and stay with them." She did, securing room in the cluster that included Castaneda.
The cramp at the second mile was not a problem. Loveys, whose grandfather, Ralph, the former mayor of Florham Park and state assemblyman, was on hand to greet her afterwards, battled through it.
"I tried to take deep breaths," Loveys said of dealing with the cramping. "I realized the race was just about over and I had to put it all out there."
Loveys, whose other grandfather, Tom O'Brien, was the long-time Whippany Park coach, will not participate in winter track. She's going to play ice hockey for the 14U Colonials along with another Randolph freshman Mackenzie Vorel, who emerged as a standout goalie for the varsity field hockey squad. She'll resume running in the spring.
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