Hillary Holt’s running career at Mountain View High wasn’t one of individual notoriety.
A strong distance runner, Holt was part of a 5A state cross country championship team and twice won titles as a member of the Mavericks’ 4x800-meter relay squads.
But as a senior, she was the sixth on the Mavericks’ state runner-up cross country team, and in track she was third at the 5A state meet in her favorite event, the 800.
College of Idaho track and cross country coach Pat McCurry can laugh about those days, as Holt wasn’t noticed for her talent, only her times.
“We knew coming out of high school she was a lot better than her high school marks and results showed, and her high school coach, Tracy Harris … also knew that,” said McCurry, adding that Holt dealt with injuries at times, and hadn’t yet matured as an athlete who knew how to set goals and achieve them.
“(Harris) just kept telling me — and really should give him the credit — he told me he thought she could win national titles and was that talented,” McCurry recalls.
The C of I coach brought Holt to the Caldwell campus, and though she was receiving interest from NCAA Division I programs like Boise State, Oregon State and Montana, she quickly opted to be a Coyote.
“I was like, ‘No, this is the place I want to go,’” Holt said after meeting McCurry, the team and the coaching staff.
McCurry’s coaching would have a huge impact on Holt, but her own desire turned an underrated high school runner into a two-time NAIA national champion.
“Part of me kinda just got sick of being in the background and being overlooked and I decided when I’d come to college I would make a name for myself and that I was going to make every school that overlooked me regret it, and I think I’m doing that so far,” Holt said.
In May, she claimed her first national title, winning the outdoor 1,500 in 4:30.10 in Marion, Ind. She backed that up by claiming the individual national title in cross country in November in Vancouver, Wash.
Now the C of I junior is in Geneva, Ohio at the NAIA Indoor National Championships looking to add to her championship resume as she enters this weekend’s title meet No. 1 in the mile (by 12 seconds) and No. 1 in the 3,000 (by 4 seconds).
She’ll also compete for the Coyotes No. 1 distance medley relay (by 21 seconds), with the potential of winning three more titles.
“I want to show every high school runner out there that maybe you didn’t win all the state titles and weren’t the most glorified runner, that you can still be incredible, you can still be a great athlete, you just have to work hard for it, you have to work really, really hard for it.”
That’s been the key in Holt’s transformation into a national champion — which began when McCurry set her goal to win the 1,500 as a sophomore.
It was a huge goal after Holt fractured her fibula during the indoor season last winter.
Now Holt has two championship plaques on her desk where she can see them daily and be inspired, helping drive her average week of running six to seven hours over five days a week, then training the other two days in the pool.
It’s all to drive her to achieve even more, like a team title in the distance medley relay.
“I want to help my teammates achieve some of that success,” she said.
Or to become the most decorated Coyote individual national champion of all time.
“That would be really, really, really special to me, I would really love to do that,” said Holt, whose is chasing the four individual titles of snowboarder Evan Williams (2005-08) and skier Brent LaBounty (1986-87).
Or even make it to the U.S. National meet.
“Whatever it is,” Holt said of her future goals, even beyond college, “when I decide not to run any more I want to know I lived up to my potential and I did everything I could with running.”
Then, the formerly underrated Maverick runner can sit back and enjoy the rewards for her hard work.