Women’s Track and Field’s Criste to Transition From Head Coach
After 27 seasons as the head coach of the Navy women’s track and field program, Carla Criste has announced she will retire from coaching.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – After spending the last 27 seasons as the head coach of the Navy women’s track and field program, Carla Criste has announced she will retire from coaching effective August 31. Criste will remain with the United States Naval Academy as a full-time professor and administrator in the Physical Education department.
“It has been such a wonderful experience over the years to work with quality student-athletes,” Criste said. “Retirement is always hard for any coach. There is never a good time to retire. You always want to stay one more year and watch the next group go through. That part will be really hard. Through it all, I have always wanted to be remembered as a positive mentor in young people’s lives. As I get older and have been involved as a coach for so long, I am excited about trying something different.
“As far as the future, I look forward to remaining actively involved at the Academy in my new role as the Associate Department Head for Physical Mission in addition to my duties as a full-time professor and Assistant Athletic Director.”
“Carla is a magnificent person who has influenced the lives of so many midshipmen morally, mentally, and of course, physically, while being a successful Division I coach who is unquestionably a winner,” Navy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk said. “Carla is the fiber of what the Naval Academy represents and her legacy of effectiveness and success has been the benchmark for every coach and physical educator for over the past three decades. Her warm and embracing personality, coupled with a superior breadth of knowledge in both physical education and coaching, has always made Carla a most valuable resource and leader with our faculty and staff. Respected by all, in her new administrative role, she will continue to influence the lives of so many through a formula she has mastered, that being the successful development of midshipmen as highly motivated and appropriately prepared future officers for the Fleet.”
In her nearly three decades at the helm of the Navy women’s track and field program, Navy earned six Patriot League team titles (three indoor / three outdoor) with 120 individual Patriot League champions and 20 championship relay teams.
The Midshipmen won Patriot League Indoor Championships in 2001, 2009, and 2011 and Outdoor Championships in 2003, 2012 and 2018 with Criste at the helm. Additionally, Navy won the ECAC outdoor competition in 1989 and the indoor meet in 1989 and 1991.
“I attribute much of the programs’ success to the coaching staff,” said Criste. “Karen Boyle (women’s head cross country coach) and I have been working together since day one, along with a number of assistant coaches who helped set a winning tone for the program. In addition, much of our success is due to the talented administration at Navy. Chet Gladchuk and his staff have an incredible foresight and leadership skills. Chet has worked tirelessly to ensure that all of Navy’s athletic programs have premier facilities, equipment, and staff.”
Criste’s success carried over into Navy’s Star Meet competitions against archrival Army, where she boasted a 33-19-1 record, including an impressive 22-8 mark against the Black Knights over the last 15 years. Under her guidance, Navy has defeated Army in 15 of the last 20 indoor / outdoor Star Meets. Prior to Criste’s arrival, the Midshipmen’s women’s track and field team was winless against the Black Knights in 11 meetings (six indoor / five outdoor).
“Coach [Al] Cantello told me when I first arrived here that you’ve never experienced anything like the Army-Navy meet,” Criste recalled. “That is really true. You focus so much energy on the strategy heading into the meet. The focus heading into the season is all centered on beating Army, as well as doing well at the league and national level.
“I think the first time we beat Army in the program’s history will stand out in my mind forever,” Criste added. “A photographer captured a picture and I am probably two feet in the air, jumping in ecstasy. The look on everyone’s face involved with the program and the team was just so memorable and priceless. There was so much joy because we worked so hard to really build up a winning program. As Rhonda Leverett crossed the finish line in the mile relay and clinched the victory for us, it was probably one of the most memorable moments of my career.”
In addition to her team’s performance on the track, Criste’s student-athletes have also done their part in the classroom. Fifteen student-athletes were voted to the Patriot League All-Academic Team with eight being selected Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year and two named Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“I have been fortunate to watch the student-athletes excel on the track, in the classroom, and, most importantly, in the Fleet,” Criste said. “It has been an honor to follow so many of our former student-athletes as they continue to excel as combat pilots, marines, surface warfare officers, submarine officers and even astronauts, to name a few. The midshipmen take the lessons they learn in the classroom and at practice and in meets with them into the world. When I first arrived, the majority of service selections and promotion opportunities for women were fairly limited. Today, the opportunities are virtually unrestricted.”
Criste came to the Academy in 1991 after spending three years as an assistant with the women’s program at George Mason, where she oversaw the jumps, sprints, hurdles and multi-events. There, five athletes earned All-America status and two became NCAA champions under her tutelage. The Patriots also captured the ECAC Division I Championship in each of her three seasons.
Criste has also been recognized on the national scene. She was selected as the field events coach for the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival and coached the East team to victory, marking the East’s first win in the history of the festival. In 1999, Criste was named head coach for that year’s Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
She also served as head coach of the 1995 U.S. National Track and Field Team, which consisted of men’s and women’s junior and senior teams that came together for a series of meets against Canada. Criste guided the U.S. to wins in all four meets.
A standout performer in her own right, Criste was a four-year letterwinner in track at Penn State, serving as captain of the Nittany Lion women’s squad in 1985-86. She was an NCAA qualifier in the triple jump and was a national qualifier and ECAC record holder in both the pentathlon and heptathlon.
After graduating from Penn State with a degree in nutritional science in 1986, she went on to earn her master’s degree in exercise physiology from West Virginia in 1988. While at West Virginia, Criste served as an assistant track and field coach, handling the Mountaineers’ jumps, sprints, hurdles and multi-events.
After concluding her own collegiate career, Criste continued competing at the national level. For three years (1986-89) she competed at the U.S. Olympic Festival and was a member of the U.S. National Team from 1986-91. She was nationally ranked in both the triple jump and multi-events, representing the United States in several international team competitions.