MORAGA, Calif. –
It’s early in the outdoor track-and-field season and Campolindo (Moraga)
senior Carrie Verdon knows it.
Based on a surprising performance on March 24 at Azusa Pacific University, Verdon is the nation’s top miler, according to dyestat.com, at 4 minutes, 53.58 seconds.
She beat a deep and talented field in the adidas Meet of Champions event, which all but qualifies her for the Dream Mile/100 in New York City on June 9. She needs to just break 4:50 sometime during the season.
Verdon, in fact, won rather handily over Molly Babock (4:55.96) of Woodbridge (Irvine, Calif.)
and Allison Sturges (4:56.67) of Mountain View (Calif.)
. The race featured nine of the nation's top 10 times in the mile, though we repeat, it's early in the season.
“The win even surprised her a little bit,” said Campolindo coach Chuck Wooldridge. “She went down to compete against the best and she showed what she’s got. She ran a good smart race and executed her race plan.”
What made the win somewhat surprising is that the two-time state cross-country champion is more of an eight-lapper than a four-lapper as she proved in last year’s California state meet. Verdon placed third in the 3,200-meters in 10:22.50, the 16th best mark in the nation.
The University of Colorado-bound standout will run her more conventional distance this week, back in Southern California – only about 10 miles South of Azusa Pacific – in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational
Verdon is in peak shape early largely because her extremely promising cross-country season ended rather abruptly and disappointingly after defending her state Division III title at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Unlike the previous season when she dominated the race, Verdon had to fight from behind to win by a second over Karlie Garcia of Oakmont-Roseville, 17:19 to 17:20.
The slower time from the previous season stemmed from a stress reaction – just short of a stress fracture – in her ankle. Verdon had been injury free all season and a legitimate threat to place among the top five nationally, but just days before the state meet, she felt tightness.
By the second mile at state, she had dropped behind, felt definitely pain, but never considered quitting. Down by eight seconds with just more than 800 yards to go, Verdon dug deep and made up more than 50 yards down the stretch to win.
“It was absolutely the grittiest performance I’ve ever seen by one of my runners,” Wooldridge said. “She was in discomfort for sure, but she found a way.”
Said Verdon: “I wanted it so bad. I knew I could do it.” THE BIG PICTURE
She wanted badly to continue her season, but with such a bright future there was no sense risking it. Wooldridge shut her down to rest up and get ready for the track season.
“I know it was disappointing for her,” Wooldridge said. “But Carrie sees the big picture. A younger athlete might have pouted, but she simply rested and then got ready for track. She’s now in the best shape of our life.”
That really hasn’t surprised Wooldridge, a 16-year coaching veteran who has built two of the top distance programs in Northern California at Campolindo and College Park.
He calls the strong yet petite 5-foot-4 Verdon the most dedicated athlete he’s ever coach, which is a rather large statement.
He’s trained some of the region’s most devoted and successful athletes, including Lindsay Allen, a former state 1,600-meter runner-up for College Park who later starred at Stanford and recently signed a professional contract with Nike.
Allen has always been the region’s poster girl for distance excellence and work ethic and style and grace.
But in Verdon, Woolridge has at least her equal, a humble, hard-working, utterly devoted gracious athlete.
“I felt incredibly lucky to have coached one athlete at that level,” Woolridge said, speaking of Allen. “To have two. … It’s beyond words. It’s just fantastic. And the best part of is that both are such great kids with so much character who come from such great families.”
After two promising seasons, Verdon emerged into the national scene last cross-country season, winning the Division III race in 17:15, the second fastest time of the day, while leading her team to a state championship over favored Palos Verdes.
“That was the very best,” Verdon said. “There were so many tears – tears of joy. I remember my teammates racing up to me asking, ‘did you win, did you win?’ And I remember saying ‘yes, did we win, did we win?’ “
Verdon didn’t win the next three weeks but made her national mark.
She placed fourth at the Foot Locker West Regionals and 19th at Foot Locker Nationals as a junior. And she backed that up with perhaps an even better track and field season, taking one of the most impressive distance doubles in North Coast Section history, winning the Meet of Champion 1600 in 4:51.80 and coming back less than two hours later to capture the 3200 in 10:41.50.
She dropped the 1600 the following week to focus on the 3200 and it paid off tremendously as Verdon took almost 20 seconds off her best time to take third at state.
“I was really happy and excited with my junior season,” Verdon said. “All the hard work and attention to detail paid off. I got really fit and put in lots of miles.”
Don’t be surprised if she tries to double in track this season. But with Simi Valley sophomore phenom Sarah Baxter around, she’ll be chasing a rabbit.
Either way, Woolridge won’t put anything past his star pupil.
“She’s already top 10 nationally in cross country,” he said. “She’ll likely be mid-4:40s in the mile and around 10 in the two mile. With her work ethic, who knows how much faster she can go.”
HOOKED ON RUNNING
Verdon only picked up the sport as a freshman after her brother Spencer and parents Lisa and Wayne talked her into it.
Her parents are active cyclists and Wayne played soccer and rugby as a youth in England. Lisa, a Southern California native, loved to dance.
Spencer, now a student at the University of Oregon, had a great cross-country experience at Campolindo and thought little sister would benefit from running as well.
Verdon, who tried all sports as a youth growing up in the Oakland hills – volleyball, basketball, figure skating, horseback riding and especially soccer – was partially enthusiastic to the new sport.
She was downright reluctant the first day of practice as a ninth-grader.
“I remember it was really hot and it was summer and it was two weeks before school started,” she said. “(Woolridge) had us wearing sweats and I thought there was better things to do.
“But I remember my parents telling me that it would get easier and as I started making new friends on the team, and I heard that though (Woolridge) was tough he really cared about his athletes. I basically got hooked.”
And when Verdon gets hooked on something, watch out.
By the end of her freshman season she was the team’s top runner, with ease. She took third at NCS and was 11th at state, one spot from medaling. Her time of 18:19 was more than a minute faster than any of her teammates.
Woolridge could see the promise.
“She had great talent but more important, she had great mentors on the team,” he said. “I think she’s never forgot that and why she’s such a great mentor now herself.”
Her sophomore cross country season was plagued with tendonitis and though her ninth-place finish at state earned her a medal, her time of 18 minutes, 19 seconds at Woodward Park in Clovis was the exact same mark she had as a freshman.
She decided then to get serious. Very serious. And it stemmed from a conversation she had with Woolridge.
“She sat me down and told me that I was a real good runner but I had a chance to be a great runner,” Verdon said. “He said I could be one of the top distance runners in California. I came away amazed. I had so much more confidence then.”
And focus. STEPPING FORWARD
She gave up competitive soccer and paid attention to all the sport’s details: stretching, weights, rest, icing and of course miles.
Verdon was rewarded with a stellar sophomore track season, taking a second and third at the NCS MOC in superb times of 5:03.41 and 10:53.86.
“I really felt fit and accomplished,” she said.
But as the sport tends to do, Verdon was humbled the next week at the state meet trials where she failed to qualify for 1600 finals. Her time of 5:12.60 was well off her best.
“She was wide-eyed and overwhelmed,” Woolridge said. “She had the potential to make finals, but lacked experience and confidence.”
Said Verdon: “I was pretty crushed after that race. I ran off the track crying.”
Woolridge didn’t let the pain linger. She said it was a defining moment in her career.
“He just gave me a big hug and told me to brush it off. He said he was proud of me that I had made it that far and it’s OK to have a bad race and to simply move on and learn from it. I think I did.”
About a month later, Woolridge said he had a breakthrough moment as well.
At a camp with more than 150 runners, the athletes were asked to stand and step forward with a series of questions about their aspirations. The last question was “do you see yourself running in the Olympics?”
Verdon was one of only two athletes to still be standing.
“It was then I truly realized that she was committed all the way,” Woolridge said.
That dedication and excellence showed throughout her junior season not only in her accomplishments but her leadership skills, Woolridge and teammates said.
Shy and soft spoken by nature, Verdon has emerged a team leader.
“She constantly checks in with others and makes sure the team is where it needs to be,” Woolridge said. “”She’s not afraid to call people out and say ‘we’re out here working hard, and you need to get with the program.’ At the same time the kids respect her so much that when she comes to them, she doesn’t have to get in their face.”
Said senior Juliet Farnan: “She always encourages everyone in the most positive way. She’s totally encouraging and never negative.”
Verdon often works out with the boys team during long runs and her male counterparts barely blink.
“She’s got no ego,” said Campolindo senior Thomas Joyce, who placed third at state and is invited to run in the top 3,2000 field on Saturday. “She totally believes and pushes in everyone in this program, not just the top runners.”
Woolridge said Verdon’s lack of ego has been a double-edged sword. It ingratiates her among peers and teammates, but it can be debilitating when addressed by large groups and media types.
It’s also the opposite of Allen, whom he said “always came off poised and confident. I think Carrie is learning that. She gets overwhelmed in the spotlight sometimes. She doesn’t like it. She likes to be part of the team, part of the group. It’s never the Carrie Verdon show with her.
“That is part of her charisma and part of the reason why the team rallies around her so much. Because she doesn’t set herself apart. And it’s absolutely genuine.” E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @mitchmashmax. Stephens will lead the MaxPreps coverage at the Arcadia Invitational.