By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– In terms of its classification North Lincoln is in the upper half of the state’s largest high schools, and its running programs are top notch.
But Allie Castro hasn’t seen anything yet.
The Knights standout senior distance runner signed a national letter of intent last week to run cross country, and compete in indoor and outdoor track and field for the University of Georgia.
The Bulldogs are ranked fourth nationally in women’s indoor track and field, and 14th in the preseason outdoor rankings. They also sport a solid cross country program, and compete in the SEC, one of the country’s top running conferences.
A week after Castro signed, the magnitude of the athletic program of the college she’ll be attending hasn’t quite set in.
“I haven’t really realized how big of a school it is,” Castro said.
Georgia wasn’t Castro’s only big-time option, but it was the one that suited her best.
Castro said she narrowed her choices down to Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and N.C. State –– each with established, competitive running programs –– but in the end the Bulldogs set themselves above the rest.
So much so, that she felt at home in Athens before visiting any other school.
“When I went on their visit, I really felt that was going to be the best place for me. I hadn’t really gone to any of those other places yet, but that one really stood out,” Castro said.
Castro, who wants to major in pharmaceuticals and one day attend Georgia’s pharmacy school, even compared Georgia’s head running coach to her high school coach, her father, Jerry Castro.
“I love their coach. He’s a lot like my dad,” she said.
Castro still has more than two months left in high school, but last weekend she got a taste of what it’ll be like under the bright lights of the SEC.
She traveled to New York City to compete in the 5,000-meter run in the prestigious New Balance Nationals.
Castro wasn’t too thrilled with her time –– 18:55 –– but the competition showed her just how far she has to go.
“It really teaches you to run against people who are as good, or better, than you are,” she said. “Around here, it’s kind of like, you’re used to racing the same people all the time. But once I get to college and those big events, there’s a lot more people that’s better than you are.
“I knew I had to be better than I was, but it’s definitely something to see that there are so many people that are much better than you are.”
Her father, who has coached the Knights to various conference, regional and state titles in both boys and girls cross country, gave his daughter the same summer workout plan as he did the rest of his runners.
He never once had to mention it to her again, and to him, that’s why she earned a scholarship to run for a highly acclaimed Division I program.
“I’m very proud. She’s definitely put in the work. Even though we live under the same roof, I’ve never had to force her to work out, honestly,” Jerry Castro said.
“She’s paid her dues. She’s definitely earned it, and in the classroom as well.”