As the 2008 cross-country season came to its conclusion, Crescenta Valley High’s Claudia Pham grabbed notice. Her times dropped as she moved up at the finish line.
But as the 2009 cross-country campaign drew to a close, Pham was noticeably absent. Her team’s fortunes waned as she was forced to the sideline due to an injury.
“We would’ve made CIF finals,” states Falcons Coach Mark Evans. “If she’s healthy, we make CIF finals. I don’t know if we would have made state, but I felt we could’ve been right there.”
“It was hard,” says Pham of watching from the sidelines due to a stress fracture. “Whenever I would run, the pounding would just make it worse.”
Prior to the injury, though, whenever Pham ran, it was clear she had moved herself to the top of the area’s elite.
“This cross-country season, she was really able to shine,” Evans says. “She was just really consistent.”
Thus, while her injury left a bitter taste at season’s end, it certainly didn’t tell the whole story of this Falcon’s junior campaign.
Plain and simple, when Pham was at her best, she was the very best in the area.
For that reason, she was voted the 2009 All-Area Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year by the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
For the diminutive Pham, who’s small in stature and soft in tone, she might have looked out of place leading the way for the Falcons, the area’s most decorated cross-country program as of late.
But that’s exactly what she did, finishing as her team’s top runner in six of the seven races she ran.
“She’s very quiet, but she’s very determined,” Evans says, “and, as you can tell when you watch her race, she’s very competitive.”
Aside from the injury that cut her season short, Pham was the most consistent force in the area, race in and race out.
Just as she consistently improved, she was consistently the top runner.
“She’s kept improving,” Evans says. “Claudia pretty much ran well all season.”
In the first Pacific League meet of the season, she took second in 19 minutes 1.47 seconds at Arcadia Park. Just a second behind teammate Brooke Moultrie at the second league meet at Crescenta Valley Park, Pham took third in 19:05.33.
At the Staub Invitational, once again at CV Park, Pham paced the Falcons’ second-place finish in the Division I race with a run of 19:21.21, good enough for fifth.
In the girls’ Division I race at the Clovis Invitational, Crescenta Valley took second with Pham leading the way with a sixth-place mark of 18:52.
And at the Mt SAC Cross-Country Invitational, her time of 18:23 was the best among locals and 19th best among all junior runners, leading the Falcons to third in the Division I Varsity Green race, in which she finished third.
Still, Pham missed what became her team’s two most important races — the league finals and the CIF Southern Section Division I prelims. Hence, the premature conclusion to her season has her that much more eager for her senior year.
“I’m pretty excited,” she says of coming back. “My last race, I didn’t know [it was going to be my last]. It’s weird, you don’t have that [closure].”
First things first, though, Pham must get back on the course and back on the track.
“I think the first thing she’s gotta do is get back, get healthy and get back to training,” Evans says. “[Next year] I think we’re gonna be in a situation to have two or three frontrunners.
“Claudia could certainly be the frontrunner next year, she certainly has that potential.”
With the exception of senior Eliza Collison, all of the top Falcons runners return, with the likes of Moultrie, Anneke Kakebeen, Cali King and Ali Johnson looked on to provide just as much promise as a returning Pham.
“The whole group really is coming back,” Evans says. “They [have] got great experience coming back. They’re really in a position to do well.”
It’s a notion Pham agrees with.
“Now we know next year we have to go out and do it,” says Pham in reference to the Falcons getting back to the CIF finals and possibly the CIF State meet.
Whether or not Pham keeps on improving or returns to the form she’s already displayed, only time will tell.
But the times and effort Pham put in this season told enough, they told the tale of the area’s best.