State champion!

Chanhassen High School senior Emily Castanias stands atop the podium as state champion of the 3,200 meters race June 6 at the Class AA State Track and Field Meet at Hamline University in St. Paul. It was the first state track title for the Storm in five years of existence. Read more about the championship run on Page 12.

It's not that coaches and people around Emily Castanias felt she couldn't win a state championship in 2014. It's not like like Castanias herself didn't think she could win. The then senior just wasn't the favorite into the race.

There were super sophomores Bethany and Megan Hasz of Alexandria. There was Wisconsin commit Shaelyn Sorensen. There was Wake Forest commit Jenna Truedson.

And there was Castanias. A time of 10 minutes, 52 seconds, in an uncontested section title victory in advance of state in the 3,200 meters. Twenty or so seconds off the fastest seed time.

"I remember the whole two miles. The start was so ridiculously fast. I was near the back of the pack. I just thought, this is so fast, everybody must have burned their energy. I can continue to run fast. That confidence, the fact that I had way more speed, I started to believe I could do it," Castanias recalled of her state championship run.

With two laps to go, six in the books, Castanias was in a mindset of trying to run a personal-best final 800. While she knew it wouldn't be possible, mentally that's where she knew she had to be.

"I'll never forget my last lap. Coach (Anita) Woodrow is in the corner, as she always is during a race, and she yells out to me 'what do you have to lose?' I thought, 'what do I have to lose?' I just went for it. That has stuck with me for a long time. When I was at the U of M, I would tell my college coach to tell me that on the last lap every race," Castanias said.

Her time of 10 minutes, 28.58 seconds, was just two seconds off a state record at the time set by Maria Hauger of Shakopee.

"Looking back, yeah I am surprised I won. I ran a personal-best by like 25 seconds. It was just my day," she said.

BACK IN RUNNING

Castanias, who graduated from the University of Minnesota, works for Sambatek of Minnetonka, designing water treatment systems. She saw herself in engineering, choosing an area with an environmental route.

After competing for four years with the Gophers, the final season marred by injury, back-to-back stress fractures, Castanias took 18 months or so off from running.

Then she got the bug again to run.

"I really wanted to train for something a little more. I've obviously done a lot of long runs, but never a marathon." Castanias hopes the Twin Cities Marathon doesn't have the same fate as Grandma's and she is able to compete.

Though she would understand if it was. Some of her family, including her mother, Tamara, are in the health care field. She knows firsthand what the world is facing right now. Her mother, a travel nurse, is on the job in New York currently.

"I feel really bad for all of the kids missing out on their senior seasons right now. I know how they feel. Being injured my last year I feel like I missed out on something," Castanias said.

BOUNCING BACK

Castanias walked through the trees at Cedar Lake Farm northeast of New Prague for the 2013 Missota Conference Cross Country Championships. The rest of the Chanhassen girls cross country team were out warming up. Castanias was in street clothes.

Illness claimed many of her races that fall. An iron deficiency the culprit.

"My senior year in cross country I was so frustrated. I was having all of these nutritional issues. I remember being on the sidelines at Alexandria, watching the team race, and I was so disappointed. That was my favorite race," Castanias said. "I'd have these great practices, feel good, and then I'd race and I'd just feel awful. I couldn't figure it out."

Nine days later, the Section 2AA Meet set in Buffalo, Woodrow left it up to her senior.

"I just remember Coach Woodrow going up to me and asking if I could compete. I wanted so badly to have that chance. I look back now and with all of that time off, I think I did so well because I had fresh legs," Castanias said.

The senior finished fourth overall, one of three Storm runners along with Anastasia Korzenowski and Grace Loeslie, to finish in the top-five. Chanhassen repeated as section champion, Castanias qualifying for state for a fourth time in cross country.

Castanias ran a sub-15 minute time at state for 35th place as Chanhassen placed fourth overall as a team, a program-best finish.

After qualifying for state in Nordic Ski less than 24 hours after signing a National Letter of Intent to compete at the University of Minnesota, Castanias followed it up with an unforgettable track season. She was beaten just twice in individual races leading up to sections.

"Sometimes I look back at my high school career and I'm blown away. It was a lot of hard work and determination," Castanias said.

COLLEGE REALITY

Castanias originally was looking at Wisconsin for college, but upon further review after a visit, she narrowed her decision to North Dakota and Minnesota. In the end, the Gophers program was the right fit.

"The coaches are really good at recruiting. They do a great job showing you what the team is like. It's not about which team is going to be the fastest. It's more about what the energy of the team is like. You leave knowing you're going to fit in," Castanias said.

She had high hopes after her final high school track season, but nothing can prepare an athlete for what they experience in a college program.

"My freshman year went really well, but the transition was a lot. There's a lot of different things between being a high school athlete and being on a team at Division I team like the U. A good amount of your day you're left thinking about running. It's hard at first, but the U sets you up with so many things. They make it a lot easier on you so you succeed," Castanias said.

She ran in 17 cross country meets at the U of M and 20-plus races for the indoor/outdoor track team. Additionally, Castanias was named Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten honoree in 2017.

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