Newport Harbor High girls' track and field coach Eric Tweit said it's tough to get any words out of Paige Tennison.
She isn't the most vocal athlete. Even when she talks, it's in a soft tone.
In running, none of that matters to the Newport Harbor High sophomore. Her time in the 3,200-meter run last weekend was loud, deafening even.
Tweit brought his first-year competitive runner to a first-year event, the Irvine Distance Carnival at Irvine High April 9.
"Distance carnivals are starting to take off," Tweit said. "Most of the reason they're taking off is they're so easy to run. They don't have field events, they don't have hurdles. Usually they don't even have blocks."
Tennison knows about taking off. Her running career has done just that this year. She showed it again in what she said was just her third time running the 3,200 meters.
She crossed the finish line first in the invitational race in 11 minutes, 7.75 seconds, a personal record. She was seventh in the 1,600 in 5:15.27, also a personal-best.
In the 3,200 Tennison said she tried to keep pace with a particular competitor. With a lap and a half left, she turned a theoretical corner.
"I realized, 'I can beat her,'" Tennison said. "I just went for it and I ended up getting a better time."
Thrilling, yes, but this wasn't how Tennison's high school athletic experience was supposed to go. She joined the cross country team last year just so she could stay in shape for soccer, the sport she's played since she was 6 years old. She ran track last year too, not really competing in too many meets but just running in practice.
Soccer was always the priority before, but the midfielder started to love running. Running cross country for Tweit this past fall, she was the team's No. 1 girl. She placed 17th at the Sunset League finals, tops among the Sailors.
Tennison played varsity soccer for Newport Harbor this winter as well, part of the Tars squad that made the playoffs for the first time in six years. Her father, Lance, said she should stick it out for at least one more year to see if she wanted to keep playing.
She said she doesn't know if she'll keep playing soccer for Newport, but either way the pendulum has clearly swung in the direction of running.
"When you consider her running experience, it's pretty amazing how far she's come," Tweit said. "Last year at this time in track, she'd only ran about three races. She ran the half-mile and she was on the frosh-soph team. We knew she had some ability, but at that point she hadn't really bought into running. Soccer was kind of her sport. Somewhere over the summer, she decided she enjoyed the running part."
DyeStatCal is not a website Tennison would have needed in the past. Now she can go there and see her 11:07.75 at Irvine, though not entered at the site yet, would place her 11th among California sophomores this year in the 3,200.
"It's really exciting," Tennison said. "As I got better, I just was realizing, 'This is what I want to do.' I didn't even think about soccer anymore. I used to be dreaming and thinking about playing soccer in college, but then I started thinking that running was all I wanted to do. I was thinking that I just want to run for the rest of my life.
"I just love it. I don't know why. I was always that person at soccer who was like, 'Oh, we have to run?'"
Now Tennison loves running with her cross country and track friends, new and old. Fellow sophomore Katherine Maddox is one of the old ones.
"We've always played soccer together and I'm so happy that she's running with me," Tennison said.
The Sailors are happy to have Tennison as well, but Tweit said he is not in a hurry with two more years of experience left for his sophomore. In Saturday's Orange County Track and Field Championships he has her running the distance events in the frosh-soph races, not varsity.
Small steps are fine for now, although Tweit knows that Tennison has a good chance to make the CIF finals if she keeps improving.
"It's kind of overwhelming, but she's handled it really well," he said. "She's got the right demeanor for it. She wants to be good, which is not uncommon for a lot of distance runners. But I would just say with my fingers crossed that there's going to be a lot of improvement before she's done. She's such an easy person to coach.
"The hardest part is getting her to talk. She doesn't really like the notoriety; she just likes to run. Our conversations aren't very long."
Tennison said she's had conversations with her younger brother, Stafford, an eighth-grader at Ensign Intermediate. He's more of a soccer and basketball guy himself, but she's trying to recruit him into cross country.
Prior experience is nice, but not always necessary. Determination can do plenty. Stafford can just look at his older sister for proof of that.
"Soccer was my life," Paige Tennison said. "I always thought I was going to be a soccer player. It's a lot more mental strength with running. You have to really just give it everything."
Those last words speak loudest of all for Tennison.
Born: Sept. 11, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Sport: Track and field
Coach: Eric Tweit
Favorite food: Cheese ravioli
Favorite movie: "Finding Nemo"
Favorite athletic moment: "Probably my first track race this season, because I just started applying myself more and started really trying. I saw my time drop so much from last year when I was a freshman; it just felt good."
Week in review: Tennison won the girls' invitational 3,200 meters at the Irvine Distance Carnival on April 9, in a personal-best time of 11:07.75. She also won that event against Huntington Beach (11:29) on April 6.