Varsity Final: Saugus' Heys passes torch to teammates Castillo in dual under the lights
Heys, a senior and recent Cal Poly San Luis Obispo signee, enters the final championship meet of her Foothill League running career with a resume more impressive than any other track and field athlete competing this week.
Castillo, just a sophomore for the Lady Centurions, is hoping she walks away from these championships with her first Foothill League crown of any kind after two years of frustration during her freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Thursday night's girls varsity 3,200-meter final holds a much deeper meaning though. When the two cross the finish line, regardless of who wins, Thursday, Heys will pass the torch to Castillo with a common goal -- lead the Saugus boys and girls cross country program to an unprecedented 11th consecutive state championship in November. Don't get me wrong. No one wants to win this week more badly than Heys, but she's far from selfish, and would much rather see her teammates win if it means helping extend the program's dynasty.
Of all the races being run this week, this will be the most emotional, and emotion is important because it makes up a large portion of sports.
Heys has been absolutely fantastic over her Saugus career, and like we said, no one has had a career as successful as her. Not Johnathan Bay. Not Bianca Tinoco. Not even Ryan Tate. Heys' high school career has been defined by clutch careers, from her historic finish at the 2014 Foothill League 3,200-meter varsity finals, which saw her prevail over Canyon's Natalie Rodriguez by one-one hundredths of a second and extend Saugus' streak of wins to 11, to her late surge with 600 meters to go at last fall's CIF State Cross Country Championships, which was a large reason why the program was able to win state crown No. 10 and complete a "Decade of Excellence."
As a freshman in 2013, Heys became the fifth runner in Foothill League Championship history - regardless of of gender or division - to win at least three league titles, winning the junior varsity 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter finals and erasing Brenda Cohen's 10-year old record in the eight-lap event. She returned a year later, as a sophomore in 2014, to run down Canyon's Rodriguez in the final 100 meters to win the first and only varsity championship of her career, and last year, she took bronze in the 1,600-meter final and fourth in the 3,200-meter final.
Her Foothill League career floods into cross country, too, where she finished third as a sophomore, second as a junior, and fourth a senior. Even as a freshman, she was one of the best in league.
Heys has two chances - in this final and the 1,600-meter final - to win another championship, and if she runs similar to her impressive 4:59/10:51 double at the Azusa Pacific University Distance Meet of Champions in March, could walk away with two championships. Thursday's championship could be all about Ashley Heys, fitting considering the amount of sacrifices she's made to better the Saugus boys and girls cross country and track and field programs.
Saugus' Heys outkicks Canyon's Rodriguez at 2014 finals
Heys' biggest rival is sophomore teammate Castillo, who enters her second track championships as the top returnee from last year's championships. She out-kicked Canyon's Kyla Danforth in the final 100 meters to claim silver behind Saugus legend Samantha Ortega.
Castillo has had a handful of setbacks over the first half of her career,
Top 10 Foothill League 3,200m Varsity Girls Entries
All-Time Foothill League 3,200m Varsity Girls List
The third and final contender comes in the form of Kaylee Thompson, last fall's Santa Clarita Valley Female Runner of the Year in cross country. The junior is super talented, and showed maturity beyond her years in leading Saugus to a 10th consecutive state championship.
Thompson, an all-state runner and one of the top contenders for the individual state championship next cross country season, has yet to break the 11-minute barrier, boasting a season best of 11:06.79 and a personal best of 11:02.51. Due to transfer rules (She transferred to Saugus from Valencia after the 2014 cross country season), Thompson was forced to run junior varsity all season long last spring. She didn't disappoint, obliterating the junior varsity championship records in the 1,600-meter final (5:14.24) and the 3,200-meter final (11:03.93).
Making up the rest of the field is Golden Valley's Mykasia Simpkins, who has all the tools to steal a spot on the podium and into the post-season. Simpkins, a senior for the Grizzlies, stunned many by finishing third behind teammate Bianca Tinoco and Thompson at last fall's cross country league championships. She'll head into the final with fresh legs - she's only entered in this - and an all-time best of 11:15.60, run at APU.
Only six other runners are entered in this final with a personal best under 12 minutes, and although all six are really good, only two could potentially mix it up up front. Hart's Anely Avila, a junior, was on fire last cross country season and has a best of 11:33.12, and a best of 5:17 in the 1,600-meter event, while Saugus' Victoria Hodge will run with a best of 11:46.42. Hodge, another junior in the highly competitve Foothill League, was the frosh/soph league champion in 2014 and finished second in the 2015 junior varsity finals. She's also been on roll over the last couple weeks, her latest performances saw her run a 5:18 personal best over 1,600 meters and 12:00 in the 3,200-meter event at Canyon.
In that race was Canyon's junior runner, Yee-Lynn Wong, the fifth fastest female entered in this final at 11:26.04. as well as junior teammate Rosa Hernandez, the eighth fastest entered at 11:44.13. Both have the potential to run personal bests later this week.
Junior Varsity Final: Saugus quintet lead championship, headlined by Cascione vs. Park battle up front
Learn those names and remember their faces.
If you're looking for the next big stars in the Foothill League after seniors Ashley Heys and Bianca Tinoco graduate, it's these two.
It's possible you've never heard of either, and for good reason. The two were overshadowed by names like Heys, Tinoco, Mariah Castillo and Kaylee Thompson all cross country season last year, and were the Lady Centurions' No. 4 and 6 runners at the state championships last fall.
Yet here both are, both favorites to win this year's junior varsity 3,200-meter crown. Names like Heys, Thompson, Samantha Ortega, Courtney Wilson and Merissa Kado - all very accomplished runners - have won this championship, and now, Cascione and Park have a shot to do it too.
Cascione is the leading candidate, having set the freshman course record at Central Park last year, and entered with the top times in both 3,200 and 1,600-meter finals. The freshman ran an impressive 11:24.13 to move up to No. 11 on the SCV all-time high school freshman list at the Azusa Pacific University Distance Meet of Champions.
Her teammate, Park, isn't even among the five leading Saugus females in this final, having only competed in one 3,200-meter race ever, where she ran 12:09.66. Park, a sophomore who came out of no where just before the Foothill League season last cross country season, has made vast improvements since, running personal bests of 2:23 over 800 meters and 5:17 in the 1,600-meter event. It's those performances, and her 62-second quarter speed, that has her attempting the same quadruple teammate Juan Enciso is attempting at the frosh/soph boys level.
Park - last year's frosh/soph girls league champion in cross country - could join former Saugus runner Merissa Kado as the only two females to accomplish the feat, but will have to beat teammate Cascione in both four and eight-lap events to do so. Both finals should be super close.
Top 10 Foothill League 3,200m JV Girls Entries
All-Time Foothill League 3,200m JV Girls List
It near-impossible to pick from the four, as they've all run solid in past races. Sehenuk is the defending Foothill League junior varsity cross country champion, Pearson is the younger sister of Alex Pearson, one of the most accomplished runners in these championships, Victoria has been on fire over the last couple weeks, and Davis is last year's Foothill League junior varsity bronze medalist in this event.
The four's season bests are within 14 seconds of each other (Sehenuk at 11:45.59, Pearson at 11:50.21, Victoria at 11:57.93 and Davis at 11:59.58), although Davis has the best personal best in the field at 11:41.10. That mark was run at last year's race for No. 7 in finals history.
Watch out for Hart's Lilly Bollinger, who enters the final with a personal best of 12:00.60, as well as Golden Valley's Aylin Gonzales, who has an all-time best of 12:05.00. Both were varsity runners for the Indians and Grizzlies last cross country season.