After finishing third in the 1,600-meter run at the CIF state track and field meet as a sophomore, Carpinteria High's Coley Candaele was determined to improve.
As a junior last year, he qualified for state again in the 1,600, and in the late stages of the race was racing for second place with Todd Lewis of Burbank. As they neared the finish line, Candaele dived across, edging Lewis. Francis O'Neill of San Pasqual won in 4 minutes 8.67 seconds and Candaele finished second in 4:09.1.
"There was just no way I was going to finish third again," Candaele said. "I had set a goal to do better, and I wasn't going to let the goal slip away. Sure, I got a few scrapes, but, heck, it was worth it."
Going into today's preliminaries at the state meet at Cerritos College, the Carpinteria senior leads the nation in the 1,600 with a time of 4:06.58. His converted mile time of 4:08.03 has Candaele believing he can become the first prep runner in California to break four minutes since Tim Danielson of Chula Vista ran 3:59.4 in 1966.
Winning the 1,600 in record time, though, isn't enough. Candaele, who has the fifth-fastest time in the nation in the 800 with a 1:50.87, also has his sights set on becoming the first runner in the state to win such a double since Earl Lockhart of Sacramento High in 1923.
If Candaele qualifies for Saturday night's finals in both events, he will have only 45 minutes' rest between races. The race lengths and short interval make it a particularly difficult double.
Accomplishing the improbable, though, is nothing new to Candaele.
Knowing that his future athletic career was in track, Candaele risked injury by playing quarterback for four years at Carpinteria. With him as a varsity starter, the Warriors were 38-3-1 and won two Southern Section championships and tied for another. Candaele, 5-11 and 165 pounds, was selected the section's Division IX player of the year last fall.
He has a track scholarship to the University of Oregon, considered as one of the best schools in the country for distance runners. If he had wanted to continue his football career, a number of schools were interested, including the Air Force Academy, said Carpinteria Coach Lou Panizzon.
Candaele is an honors student at Carpinteria, a school of 700 students 10 miles south of Santa Barbara. He has a 3.85 grade-point average and ranks eighth in a class of 144. He is a member of the California Scholastic Federation, which includes the top students in the state. He loves math and said he may become an engineer.
Studying has been as challenging as athletics for Candaele, who suffers from dyslexia, a permanent neurological disorder that makes reading difficult.
"What takes most people 15 minutes to read takes me a couple of hours," Candaele said. "I have to get up very early some mornings or stay up late at night to finish my homework. I'm very serious about school, and I know track isn't everything. I strive to be the best in the classroom.
"Dyslexia has proved to be my biggest challenge. In athletics, the harder you work the better you get. But my progress with reading has been at a much slower pace. It's very frustrating at times. I just work hard and try do what is necessary."
Candaele scored 1,060 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, a standardized college entrance exam. His score put him among the top 36% in the country.
Candaele, 18, strives to be at the top.
Two weeks ago at the Southern Section meet, Louie Quintana of Arroyo Grande ran the nation's top time of the season in the 1,600, 4:07.2, while winning the 2-A Division title. Ten minutes later, Candaele ran a personal best of 4.06.58, winning the 1-A title and taking over the nation's top spot.
Quintana then ran a 1:51.91 in winning the 2-A 800, but once again was topped by Candaele, who won the 1-A title in 1:50.87.
"Coley has such incredible confidence," Quintana said. "He's built that confidence up over the years and it's hard to destroy or defeat it. Every race against him is a mental challenge, and that's the toughest thing to beat."
Candaele is undefeated this season. His long list of victories covers such prestigious meets as the Arcadia Invitational, Mt. San Antonio College Relays and the Masters meet.
At Arcadia, the 800 offered a showdown between Candaele and highly regarded Steve Adderly of Delray Beach, Fla., who leads the nation in the event with a 1:49.6. Candaele, though, won that race in 1:51.19, and Adderly was third in 1:52.01.
"I must be getting a little callous, because nothing that Coley does surprises me any more," said Van Latham, Carpinteria's track coach. "He's an amazing athlete, but when he does amazing things now, I take them for granted. I fully expect him to win every race."
The Carpinteria senior began his track career with a club team in the first grade. He has since tried almost every event, but the mile is his favorite.
"The mile is a very competitive race," Candaele said. "I like going one-on-one with somebody and knowing they're going through pain and so are you. It's fun to see who can hold out and finish first."
To increase his chances at a high finish at state last year, Candaele decided to run the 1,600 and 800. He won both events at the Masters the week before, but planned on dropping the 800 at state to concentrate on the mile. But after faring well in the preliminaries, Candaele felt he was up to the double duty.
After his dramatic second-place finish in the 1,600, he faltered in the 800 and finished sixth in 1:53.61. He vows the same thing won't happen this weekend.
What makes Candaele such a strong runner is his kick. In the 1,600, he characteristically runs at the back of the lead pack and makes his move on the final lap. He often has to make up as much as 30 meters down the backstretch. His strategy is the same in the 800, although he runs closer to the lead since it is a shorter race.
To illustrate his speed, Candaele ran his final lap in the 1,600 at the Masters last week in 56.6 seconds, overtaking Quintana for the victory.
"His kick is quite bothersome," said Agoura's Bryan Dameworth, the state and national cross country champion. "I've been running against Coley since the sixth grade, and he likes to just sit on me until the end. And he's so intense on the track with that football animal behavior of his, that it's hard to hold him off. He's one of the most intense runners I've ever competed against."
Candaele comes from an athletic background. His father, Rick Candaele, is in his sixth year as football coach at UC Santa Barbara. Coley's uncle, Casey Candaele, is a reserve infielder-outfielder for the Houston Astros. His grandmother, Helen St. Aubin, played professional baseball in the All-American Girls Baseball League in the 1940s.
Although Candaele took an immediate interest in track, he has competed in almost every sport. When the family lived in Idaho, he enjoyed playing hockey. He has kicked soccer balls, shot basketballs and hit baseballs. Because of his father, Candaele has always loved playing football.
Directing a veer offense at Carpinteria, Candaele broke several school records. He holds records for points, 222; touchdowns, 33; yards passing, 4,620, and passes completed, 320. He is the school's fifth-leading rusher with 1,714 yards. He was first-team all-Tri Valley League three times and all-Southern Section twice.
"Coley is one of those kids who does all you ask of him and more," Panizzon said. "He has a lot of confidence in everything he does.
"He's definitely the best quarterback-miler I've ever had."