Boys’ Track & Field Athlete of the Year: Clarke County’s Zach Campbell
BERRYVILLE — As disappointed as Clarke County senior Zach Campbell was with his state cross country meet performance, there was at least an explanation, albeit an unfortunate one — he had contracted Lyme disease, and he had an iron deficiency.
As for the newfound speed that Campbell displayed once track season started, well, there’s no real explanation for that.
But Campbell gladly took it — and he impressively ran with it.
After a two-year stretch in which Clarke County’s tradition-rich boys’ distance program failed to win a state title, Campbell added to the Eagles’ title haul by winning the 800 meters at this year’s Group A state meet.
Campbell was the only area boy to win a state title this year. For that — as well as being the area’s fastest 1,600 runner (4 minutes, 25.43 seconds), an event in which he placed second in at the state meet — Campbell is The Winchester Star Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“I’m extremely proud of what Zach has accomplished this year,” Clarke County distance coach Lorenzo Lara said. “He wanted a state title, and he made it happen.”
A year ago, no one — least of all Campbell — would have ever imagined that Campbell’s state title would be in the 800. Campbell won with a time of 2:00.48 during a season in which he recorded a 1:58.75 at the Bull Run District meet.
At the high school level, the 800 is a middle distance race, and it’s one that you can’t run at the same pace the entire time and expect to excel. If you can’t flash some speed in the final 200, you’re likely going to be passed.
Since Campbell first began competitive running in sixth grade, he never gave the 800 any thought prior to this season. He was a pure distance runner, and he did it well.
Campbell’s junior year saw him place 11th at the Group A state cross country meet to earn all-state honors (17 minutes and 10 seconds over 3.1 miles, fourth-best in the area) and he was all-state in two events in track (third in Group A in the 1,600 in 4:34.18, the area’s second best time, and seventh in the 3,200).
His senior year figured to provide similar results, and his cross country season certainly started off well enough. In his last meet before the postseason, he ran a 16:34 at Millbrook’s Third Battle Invitational on Oct. 13.
Campbell continued to post strong results at the Bull Run and Region B meets, but the state meet proved surprising to say the least. Campbell recorded a 17:58 at the Group A meet, good for just 42nd place.
“The season started off really well, but at the end I was really feeling tired,” Campbell said. “Workouts, races — I just wasn’t running the way I was used to.”
Campbell went to the doctor to find a reason, and the good news his Lyme Disease and iron deficiency were caught early, and he was put on medication. Lyme Disease can result in swollen joints and can also cause neurological problems.
But with medication, Campbell was able to go out and prepare like he wanted to for track season. By the time practice began in February, Campbell said he was feeling like his usual self.
Actually, it wouldn’t be long before he would find out that wasn’t true. He was actually a new Zach Campbell.
“I don’t know if it was just his body maturing, or what,” Courtney Campbell said. “But he had some speed this year, and he never had that before.”
Courtney Campbell is Zach’s father, and he’s also the head cross country coach and head boys’ track and field coach at Loudoun County High School. And this year, Courtney Campbell got to see that speed in action once a week throughout the season at Loudoun County track practices.
Campbell has been Clarke County’s only elite distance runner the past couple of years, so the Campbell family and the Eagles coaching staff agreed this year that Zach would benefit by training with Loudoun County senior Patrick Joseph, one of the nation’s best distance runners.
Though he finished third, Joseph — who is headed to Virginia Tech — broke the previous high school mile record at the Penn Relays this year with a time of 4:07.88.
“It helped me a lot, I think,” said Campbell of working with Joseph. “He was out in front of me, and I would chase him in practice. It helped to have someone else pushing me.”
Though the 1,600 was in Campbell’s plans all along, it took two meets for Campbell and Clarke County to realize that Campbell might wind up being better in the 800 than the 3,200 this year.
Clarke County’s second meet of the year took place on April 10 in a six-team meet at Central. Against a field that included defending Group A 800 champion Logan Patrick (Central) and James Wood’s Daniel Aldstadt, Campbell ran an impressive 2:01 to win.
“That’s when I realized I might have a good chance in that event,” Campbell said.
The ensuing weeks did nothing to disprove that.
At the Handley Invitational (April 20) and Apple Blossom Invitational at James Wood (April 27), Campbell went up mostly against runners from Group AA schools, but in the 800 he finished second only to Joseph each time (Campbell ran under two minutes for the first time at the ABI), and in the 1,600 he placed first at Handley and second at the ABI, running the area’s fastest time this year at the latter meet.
Then, after never having won a postseason event in track before, Campbell swept the 800 and 1,600 at the Bull Run District and Region B meets.
At the state meet, Campbell said the first two laps of the 1,600 were ran slowly, and while he and Radford’s Walker Mogen were able to pull away at that point, Mogen was able to finish stronger in the final 100.
Fortunately for Campbell, he still had the 800, and he wouldn’t be denied.
“I really wanted to win,” said Campbell, who will run for Christopher Newport University next year. “Once I got out in front with 150 meters to go, I felt good, and I thought I could win. I was really excited when it was over.”
Given how hard Campbell worked — and what he had to overcome — to rise to the top, it was a fitting end to people like his dad, Lara, and Clarke County head coach Andre Kidrick.
“When I heard in the fall that he had Lyme Disease, I was worried about him,” Kidrick said. “He had never been a big, bulky kid. I figured he was going to lose a lot of weight, and he wasn’t going to be able to do the things he wanted to do. But he came into practice looking strong, and he worked hard. When it was cold and wet outside and we were practicing inside, he was coming up to us and saying, ‘I’d like to go outside and run.’
“In the 800 at the state meet, he just kicked into another gear, and that won him a championship. He deserved it.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1