It's where the then-junior was run down for the individual crown after leading the first 2.80 miles of the finals in dominant fashion. Three weeks earlier Castillo was celebrating after one of the most remarkable runs in league history, which saw her triumph by 18 seconds and clock the second fastest mark all-time.
“Last year’s loss at league finals was upsetting,” says Castillo, now a senior at Saugus.
But history tells a different story.
Castillo holds the most impressive resume at Central Park in Santa Clarita Valley history, boasting sophomore and junior course records and eight top two finishes out of a possible 11 Foothill League races. In 2014, she became the first ninth-grader in 11 years to win a league cross country race, doing so in excellent fashion by defeating two-time defending champion, teammate, and her hero, Samantha Ortega.
She’s been untouchable this fall, winning Foothill League Meet No. 2 three weeks ago by a staggering 58 seconds, just five ticks off Ortega’s Foothill League record for biggest margin of victory, and missing Ortega’s course record of 17:13 by four seconds as well.
To Castillo, last year’s finals were all about the elation that followed newly-crowned Foothill League champion and teammate Kaylee Thompson, and rightfully so.
To the record books, it’s all about Castillo, though, and on Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., she’ll navigate through Central Park’s hilly layout one last time, looking to put the cherry on top of one of the greatest Foothill League cross country careers in history.
“I still can’t believe this is my last year competing at Central Park,” says Castillo. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s special because I want to leave my mark here. Obviously, I want to improve and get (Samantha Ortega’s) course record, but as a team, we just want to stay healthy, race well, and get ready for CIF.”
This year is no different than any other.
The Saugus girls, ranked No. 3 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division 2 Rankings, are looking to win a 10th state championship in 12 years against defending champion Claremont, while Castillo hopes to join Lauren Fleshman (1998), Shannon Murakami (2005), Kaylin Mahoney (2008) and Brian Zabilski (2014) as the only runners in SCV history to win an individual state crown.
Castillo’s end-of-the-season goal took a huge step in the right direction when she finished second in the team sweepstakes race at last weekend’s Mt. SAC Invitational, five seconds ahead of Capistrano Valley’s Hailey Herberg, the No. 1-ranked division two runner in the state.
Her personal best of 17:00 now ranks No. 2 in SCV history, again only trailing Ortega.
Castillo has been better and better with every race, and, with a high of 65 forecasted for Thursday's finals, could dip under Ortega's record.
“Sam is a big hero to me,” says Castillo. “She took me under her wing my freshman year and showed me the ropes. She believed in me and is so supportive. I look up to her because she was a fierce competitor, and a great captain, teammate and friend.
She pushed me and still pushes me to be the best I can be and that anything is possible. I’m so thankful for Sam teaching and helping me through my high school running career.”