Saugus’ Mariah Castillo places third at Nike Cross Nationals

Saugus' Mariah Castillo finished third at the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday in Portland, Ore. John Nepolitan/Courtesy Photo.

Mariah Castillo wasn’t looking to set a bar of any sort for Saturday’s Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.

And who could blame her?

With 198 of the nation’s top runners in the field, along with it being her final cross country race associated with Saugus, she simply wanted to embrace the experience.

“I was in contact with coach (Rene) Paragas before the race and he told me to, ‘Go out there and be brave and have fun,’” Castillo said. “I came into the race as an underdog, too, so that helped me focus on just going and there and running hard.”

Castillo’s plan worked to perfection, placing third (17 minutes, 36.8 seconds) to make her just the fourth California runner to find the podium in the race’s 14-year history.

It was also the best finish by a Saugus runner in the race’s history. Katie Dunn, who finished fifth when Saugus went as a team in 2007, had the previous high.

Mariah Castillo holds her trophy for finishing third at the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday in Portland, Ore. John Nepolitan/Courtesy Photo.

“In my opinion, it was the best female distance performance we’ve had at Saugus,” Paragas said. “We’ve had people win state titles but that was an especially tough field.”

Castillo, who received All-American honors for her top-21 finish, was accompanied by her parents, brother and several aunts and uncles for the race at Glendoveer Golf Course. They were overcome with emotion when they saw Castillo cross the finish line.

“I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day,” Castillo said. “My parents couldn’t stop crying, either. It was a pretty emotional moment.”

The last runner from California to place higher at the national event was Simi Valley’s Sarah Baxter, who took first in 2013. Castillo finished in the top five out of all divisions at the CIF State cross-country championships to qualify for nationals.

While at the race as an individual, Castillo began to choke up when realizing what her presence at the event meant to Saugus as a whole.

“This race was for Saugus,” Castillo said. “They were with me there in spirit. It meant a lot to be there representing my school.”

Among the various activities Castillo got to partake in prior to the race was a visit the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

While her cross country career with Saugus has come to a close, the TCU signee is expected to again make an impact on the track and field team. She’ll mainly focus on the 1600-meter race, according to Paragas.

Canyon runners take part in Footlocker Western Regionals

Ethan Danforth capped off a remarkable season with a 14th-place finish Saturday in the seeded race at the Footlocker Western Regionals.

Danforth’s time of 16 minutes, four seconds for the five-kilometer race converted to 14:54 for Mt. SAC’s traditional 2.9-mile course — a school record. Danforth finished second at the CIF State cross-country championships and first at the CIF-SS finals.

Patrick King (16:48) finished fifth in the regional’s senior race.

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