Downey doubles down to win Skyway/Region IV cross country crown
October 29, 2014
With the Illinois Skyway/Region IV women's cross country race turned into a combined race and not run on separate weekends, the proverbial "all the marbles" were on the line October 25 at St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville.
Morton College's Sierra Downey was good and she had to be as any of the top three finishers would have won handily in any other year. It was the first time in Skyway history that the top three all went sub-19:30.
The Stickney resident completed the 5-kilometer course in a personal-best of 19:16.3, nudging out Waubonsee's Amanda Lesak (19:18.7) and 2013 Skyway champ Aileen Gorman of Moraine Valley (19:28.4), to punch her ticket to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I finals Saturday, November 8, at the Shadow Hills Golf Course in Lubbock, Texas.
The first eight days in November will be sweet, but hectic for the Downey family. In addition to Sierra competing on the national stage at the NJCAA finals, the Downey family's business, Old Fashioned Candies in Berwyn, will celebrate their 45th year in business with a ceremony on Wednesday, November 5th.
Downey is one of the joys in community college athletics, the gift basket that unexpectedly arrives at your front door. She transferred in from Loyola University Chicago when being undecided in a major didn't justify the paying the school's hefty price tag.
Morton College women's cross country coach Gus Coronado projects Downey is capable of finishing in the top 25 at nationals.
"We're lucky to have her," Coronado said. "Runners like her don't come around very often. She's worked really hard and I definitely feel she could be top 25 in the nation."
Downey, who ran cross country and track at Morton High School, also didn't realize how much she missed the sport.
"The smartest thing to do was get the gen ed (general education) courses out of the way for a lot less money," Downey said. "I thought I could take a break from the sport, but I missed it so much. It's something I want to continue."
The 6 a.m. practices gave Downey the discipline she needed to become a champion. She is Morton College's first conference champion since Paola Salazar in 2011 and first Region IV winner since Ashley Quiles in 2007.
"I felt like I ran my best race so far," Downey said. "I could have pushed it more at the end. I definitely tried. I was getting nervous that the second girl was going to get me."
A healthy case of nervous energy benefits Downey, who added, "If I'm too calm, I know I'm not ready. I channel my nervousness toward my running."
The NJCAA meet will be the biggest stage Downey has performed on. She missed qualifying for state in high school by sixth-tenths of a second in the 800-meter run.
"I've never been in a race like that," Downey said, "with more elite runners. Coach says I can finish in the top 25. I have to be ready for whatever happens."
Morton College didn't have enough runners to register in the team standings, but Sara Sanchez also garnered all-Skyway honors with her ninth-place showing in 21:17.6. Adilenne Ramirez was 12th in the Skyway race at 22:01.5, missing all-Skyway accolades by two spots.
The Morton College men were third in both the Skyway and Region IV races. Eric Diaz and Patricio Echeverria earned all-Skyway honors by placing sixth (27:55.7) and seventh (28:06.7), respectively, on the 8-kilometer course. Both also earned all-Region IV honors and qualified for the NJCAA Division I meet November 8 in Texas.