It’s hard to know exactly how Mariah Castillo feels about this award.
After all, it’s not the individual state title she wanted.
The Saugus High junior finished fifth at the CIF State Cross Country Championships and pieced together a “top five” all-time Saugus girls individual season, according to longtime Centurion coach Rene Paragas.
When Castillo crossed the finish line at Woodward Park in Fresno, she said she was upset she’d missed her goal but happy she’d improved.
“It was a balance of different emotions,” she says.
Castillo is the 2016 All-Santa Clarita Valley Girls Runner of the Year. She hopes to be a 2017 state champion.
A realistic goal?
“Yes,” Paragas says. “I thought she was capable this year. She ran the third-fastest time (at Woodward Park) in SCV history. Any race she’s in at this point, she has a chance to win.”
Castillo — who gave up soccer and basketball to focus on cross country in high school — battled injuries during her freshman and sophomore seasons. Her third season was different — in part because she trained more.
Paragas compared it to a pitcher who has a 90-pitch limit for games one year, then, after building strength that season, has a 100-pitch max the next year.
Castillo said she iced and stretched more this season, her least injury-plagued campaign to date.
She won the first two Foothill League meets before finishing second to senior teammate Kaylee Thompson at Foothill League finals.
The duo gave the Centurions — who won their 11th consecutive league title — a daunting one-two punch.
“It’s good having her around because we both feed off each other to improve,” Castillo says.
Castillo didn’t run in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 prelims (so she could rest) but finished 10th overall at the section finals a week later.
Thompson came in 11th. The Cents needed both stellar performances as they only earned a chance to compete for a 10th state title in the last 11 years because of a tiebreaker.
They earned the seventh, and final, state berth in Division 2.
“It’s kind of intense,” Castillo says of competing for one of the valley’s most vaunted programs in any sport. “The word legacy comes up a lot and obviously we want to contribute to it. So it’s like really nerve-racking most times, but we just focus on the goal and try to have fun at the same time and try to make everybody proud in our program.”
Castillo seemingly didn’t feel that weight of expectation at state where she took fifth overall in a time of 17 minutes, 34.4 seconds.
That was a 43-second cut from last year’s 18:17.7, good for 20th place.
Saugus took second as a team. It was the first time since 2004 that the Centurions didn’t have an individual or team champion for boys or girls.
Castillo hopes to halt the “drought” come next fall.
All-SCV Girls Cross Country Team
Anely Avila, Hart, Senior
Avila saved her best performance for the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals. She ran a 17:54.8 to take 23rd place overall in the race. She was steady in Foothill League competition, finishing in the top 10 at all three meets. She took sixth at meet No. 1 (18:59.09), fifth at meet No. 2 (18:29.25) and ninth at league finals (18:58.42).
Jacqueline Cascione, Saugus, Sophomore
The sophomore standout missed Foothill League meet No. 1 due to a minor injury and then made up for lost time. She took 10th at league meet No. 2 (19:06.93) and eighth at league finals (18:52.68). Her most impressive performance, though, might have come at state in Fresno where she was Saugus’ third finisher, coming in 27th place (18:33) to help propel the Centurions to a second-place finish in Division 2.
Sophia Hoelzel, West Ranch, Sophomore
Hoelzel was one of the Foothill League’s young, up-and-coming stars this season. She finished in the top five at all three Foothill League meets, posting back-to-back fourth-place finishes at meet No. 2 and league finals. She ran an 18:49.39 at league finals. Then she turned it up a notch, running an 18:05.6 at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals, good for 28th place.
Hailey Kirsch, Valencia, Freshman
Kirsch hoped to bring a spark to the Valencia program in her freshman year, and it’s safe to say she succeeded. Kirsch finished in third place at all three of the Foothill League meets, posting an 18:13.13 at league finals. She took 44th place at the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 finals (18:14.5), competing as an individual, and likely has three prolific seasons ahead of her.
Kaylee Thompson, Saugus, Senior
A strong argument could be made for Thompson to be co-Runner of the Year. She was excellent. The 2015 Runner of the Year came back strong in 2016 with second-place finishes at the first two Foothill League meets before taking first at the league finals (17 minutes, 41.64 seconds). She finished 11th at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals (17:10.0) and then came in eighth at state (17:44.2), helping the Centurions to a second-place finish. Her time was the seventh-best at Woodward Park in SCV history.