2017 All-SCV girls cross country team

Saugus girls cross country's Mariah Castillo runs down a hill in Central park on Monday. Castillo is The Signal's All-SCV girls cross country runner of the year. Ryan Painter & Christian Monterrosa/The Signal

Saugus cross country runner Mariah Castillo remembers running a timed mile in fifth-grade gym class. She wanted to set the school’s mile record – six minutes and 30 seconds.

She tied it.

Although Castillo didn’t achieve the record, she wasn’t discouraged. Rather, it was the opposite.

“I was like, wow, I really like this,” Castillo said of when she began running. “In middle school I wanted to do the cross country and track team so I tried out and made it and was like, oh my gosh, this is so fun.”

She saved up as much money as she could and joined the So Cal Supersonics track club and eventually went to two national events with the program. When she got to high school, she gave up soccer and basketball to focus solely on running.

Now a senior at Saugus, Castillo can look back at a plethora of cross country accomplishments thanks to her dedication – including the 2017 All-SCV girls cross country runner of the year award.

She captured the Foothill League girls cross country title, clocking a 16:56.73 time that set a new Central Park course record.

MORE ALL-SCV: Girls golf / Girls tennis doubles / Girls tennis singles

Castillo finished second in Division 2 at the CIF-Southern Section finals and second at the CIF State championships. Her time of 17:15.7 qualified her for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore. where she finished third out of a field of 198 runners.

The Centurion runner’s journey wasn’t without its complications, however.

Her junior campaign was rittled with shin splints, pulled muscles and aching knees. Worst of all, she had an inflamed piriformis muscle the summer before her senior year.

“I got yelled at by coach (Rene) Paragas and he kind of like, kicked me off the team for a couple hours,” Castillo said, “but it really opened my eyes to taking care of my body and focusing and dialing into the season.”

With the goal of making it to nationals in her final year with Saugus, she stopped casually brushing off injuries and took training more seriously.

She came to the school at 5 a.m. every day to train before her classes began. Then after class, she went to the usual practice with her teammates. Towards the end of the season, she began training with the boys team to prepare for a long postseason.

When it came time for nationals, Castillo was presented with a challenge she had no way of preparing for. Previously, her teammates were there to run the course with her, providing conversation or jokes along the way.

On the biggest cross country stage she’d ever been on, she was alone.

“When I got there, it was like, aw, my team’s not here,” Castillo said. “I was kind of sad, but I wanted to represent Saugus and I knew they were still there and they were all watching, so I wanted to do my best for them.”

Castillo will run for Texas Christian University next season. She hopes to compete at the national level for TCU in each of her four years there. After that, she’s got Olympics on the brain.

“I have big goals,” she said. “I really do want to try and make it to the Olympics because I really love running and I can see a future in it.”

All-SCV Girls Cross Country Team

Jacqueline Cascione, Saugus, Junior

Cascione played a major role in the Centurions’ success this season and will likely take on an even bigger role next season. She finished second at the Foothill League finals behind Mariah Castillo and 11th in Division 2 at the CIF-Southern Section finals, clocking 17:34.3. She finished in 14th at the CIF state meet at 18:23.

Hannah Fredericks, Saugus, Freshman

Fredericks made an immediate impact as a freshman and is definitely one of the top up-and-coming runners in the Foothill League. She finished ninth at the CIF-Southern Section prelims at 18:31.7 and 27th in Division 2 at the CIF-SS finals. Her work helped Saugus to a third-place finish at the state meet.

Sophia Hoelzel, West Ranch, Junior

The Wildcats took a big step forward this season, with Hoelzel as a key piece. She finished fourth at Foothill League finals and was in the Top 8 at every Foothill League meet.

Hailey Kirsch, Valencia, Sophomore

Kirsch had big expectations to live up to after a breakout freshman season last year. This time around, the came in third at league finals and was second at the first league meet of the season behind Mariah Castillo.

Abigail Welch, West Ranch, Sophomore

Welch was another Wildcat runner to finish eighth or higher in each Foothill League meet. She also finished fifth at league finals and was West Ranch’s top runner at the CIF-SS prelims after coming in 18th place in Division 2.

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