‘Mentally sound’ France finishes Hampton career on high note

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Thursday, June 20, 2019 | 7:50 PM


Most high-performing scholar athletes don’t peak during their senior year of high school. They compete in college.

But that’s not the case with Campbell France, and she’s just fine with that.

The senior reached the podium at WPIALs (third) and PIAA championships (eighth) at Shippensburg in the 800-meter run to finish a stellar season that started as a learning process.

Though she had competed in relays, France was more of a traditional sprinter than middle-distance runner. But the senior adapted quickly.

“Obviously, you’re sprinting half a mile so that’s kind of nuts,” she said. “So it took practice. I guess I wasn’t that confident in myself at the beginning. But as the season progressed, I kind of remembered how to run an 800. At the end of the year, I was more confident in myself.”

Track coach Derek Brinkley remembers France’s first 800 race of the year, which seems light years ago.

“She ran it horribly, intelligence-wise,” he said. “She ran the first half super-fast, then she’s carrying the piano.”

However, a few months of practice unlocked France’s potential, and flourished.

By the time individual championships rolled around in May, she was one of the better 800 runners in the state.

The finish at the state meet, according to France, was exhilarating.

The last 200 meters, she sat outside the top eight, which would have kept her off the podium. But her sprinting instincts kicked in, propelling her to a better finish.

“I was just very surprised,” she said. “I had never felt so proud of something I have achieved. This whole overwhelming sense of pride came upon me. I’m very hard on myself, so something awesome has to happen to give myself some credit. It’s definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”

Pitt was surprised, too. She already had decided to attend, but coaches took notice of her ability. Speaking about it after states, Brinkley saw a future in college athletics she once thought impossible — particularly at the Division I level.

“She’s just becoming a confident runner and unfortunately is done at the high school level,” he said.

“I really hope she does get involved because I think her potential as a college runner would surprise her. When she runs with confidence, it’s amazing, and she hasn’t been doing that long.”

Though there was mutual interest, France opted not to run. As an engineering major, she will have plenty on her plate.

“I talked to (assistant Pitt track coach Brad Herbster),” she said. “I decided on Saturday it was going to be too much of a commitment. It was a very big change for my workouts, mileage my body was not used to and with my major, it just wasn’t for me.”

That won’t change the memories France shares with her teammates, particularly Valerie Fischer. France credits Fischer with helping balance out her critical side.

“I love that girl,” France said. “She’s the best. It was always really nice having someone to support and boost my confidence.

“I tend to be very hard on myself. It took till we actually got to WPIALs and states. I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ and Val was like, ‘No, we knew all along!’ I don’t know what I’d do without her, honestly.”

In the end, France and Fischer, who won gold in the 400 at WPIALs, exit their track careers with a lasting legacy.

“Coach called Val and I ‘mentally sound,’ ” France said. “I guess that’s how I would describe how I felt in the end. I would keep myself calm and get in this zone before races and only focus on my race and how I want to run it.”

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