Ortega finally made her return to competition after a long, agonizing 14 months of no racing due to not one, but two, heart-wrenching stress fractures.
Her fourth-place finish of 17:48.33 in the women's 5,000-meter event at the Pac-12/Big 10 Invitational is long ways from her best races, but a huge improvement from her 5:16 mile/10:54 3K double at an all-comers in January.
Ortega is the greatest high school cross country female in Santa Clarita Valley history, winning three consecutive Foothill League championships from 2012-2014, and setting SCV high school records at Mt. SAC (16:47), Woodward Park (17:26), Central Park (17:13), Castaic Lake (16:42) and the Beast (40:30).
The sophomore at Arizona State University also helped Saugus win two state championships in its run of 10 consecutive crowns (2013 and 2015), won three Foothill League track individual titles, and clocked 4:53.76 over 1,600 meters - No. 8 in SCV high school history and the anchor on Saugus' SCV record in the Distance Medley Relay record (11:48.16) - and 10:20.25 for 3,200 meters, which ranks No. 2 in SCV history, trailing only Lauren Fleshman's 10:18.21 from 1999.
During the summer of 2015, she also became the first woman in history to break 40 minutes of the Beast, running an extraodinary 39:49, and clocking 16:53 in an epic battle against SCV 10,000-meter record-holder Grace Zamudio (16:49), the first two sub-17-minute performances in COC course history.
Ortega is most well known for her genuine, kind-hearted personality, which makes her an easy candidate to get along with. Her ability to put team goals in front of individual glory was on display in every race she started, and when she was sidelined with injuries or illness, she still made every effort to help out the team. Perhaps the most incredible act of selflessness in SCV sports history came at the 2013 CIF State Cross Country Championships, where the Lady Centurions attempted to win an eighth consecutive championship. Ortega followed head coach Rene Paragas' plan to perfection, leading the chase pack behind Simi Valley's Sarah Baxter and hammering the first two miles in an effort to wear down her competitors in order to give her teammates a chance to come from behind over the last mile. The plan nearly worked, as the Saugus girls rallied from over 50 points back with less than a mile to go to finish just five points behind Simi Valley.
Six months later, Ortega, competing with an injury, took the pace out hard at the 2014 Foothill League 3,200-meter Championships in order to give sophomore teammate Ashley Heys a shot at winning Saugus' ninth consecutive championship in the event. This time, the plan worked, as Heys ran down Canyon's Natalie Rodriguez over the final 100 meters, winning 10:49.41-10:49.42. Ortega is an class act on and off the track!
In January 2016, after one of the greatest careers in SCV high school athletics, the ASU runner and former Saugus High School legend fell victim to a sacral stress fracture, though, an uncommon hairline crack in her in the large, triangular bone at the base of the spine. This came just two months after Ortega missed qualifying for the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships by one spot as a freshman for the Sun Devils.
It took Ortega nearly 12 months for Ortega to recover and return to full-time training, and when she finally did, she suffered another injury, this time a stress fracture in her fibula - a bone located in the shin - in February. She's since recovered, although a large percentage of her runs - minus workouts - are still completed on an anti-gravity treadmill to keep the distance star healthy. Regardless, Ortega's return to competition after a very long, difficult 14 months of injuries and cross-training is huge news in the Santa Clarita Valley running community.