AURORA — Heading into this year’s state track and field meet, two-time defending 800 meter run champion Ava Hill was used to runners breathing down her neck right up until the very end.
This year was different, however, as Hill easily blew away the competition, winning the 800 meter finals by over four seconds and earning herself a third straight title.
Additionally, Hill ran the anchor legs for the state runner-up 4x200 meter relay team and the 4x400 meter relay team that finished state in fourth.
For her efforts throughout the track season and for once again defending her state title, Ava Hill has been named the All-Iron Range Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
Before her state 800 meter prelim heat, Hill had one goal in mind: finish in first. Finishing in first would guarantee her a spot in the finals where she would get a chance to defend her title.
Hill won her heat by nearly two seconds, but was ultimately a little disappointed with the result before heading into the finals.
“I knew all I had to was win my heat and that’s what I did,” Hill said Friday outside the Mesabi East High School. “But I didn’t run as fast as I might have wanted to so I knew I had to have a much better race in the finals.”
Four runners from the other heat of the 800 prelims posted faster times than Hill, and while the Mesabi East junior knew she was still the one to beat heading into the finals, others may have had their doubts.
“I know people were talking about [my prelim]. You know people would say, ‘Maybe she’s not having a good year,’ or ‘Maybe she’s not as fast as she was.’ And I wanted to prove them wrong because I knew that wasn’t true.”
From the sound of the gun at the 800 meter finals, Hill silenced her doubters. The experienced runner sprinted out to an early lead that only continued to grow as the race went on. In her championship run, Hill knew that setting a blistering pace would be the key to keeping her crown.
“That first 50 meters of the race, I really wanted to take control and just run my race and run it at my own pace.”
After the first lap, Hill had about a one second lead but she quickly pressed on the gas around the first turn of lap two and never looked back. The final 400 meters felt like a formality as Hill crossed the finish line in first with a time of 2:13.33. Her closest competitor finished four seconds back at 2:17.36.
Another first place medal around her neck, Hill said winning a state title for the third year felt just as good as the first two.
“Being at state quite a few times now, I know what to expect so I go in there just looking to run as fast as I can and to win it again just feels really good.”
Staying busy at state, Hill helped her Giants teammates in two other races, the 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays. Taking second and fourth in those races, respectively, Hill says she treats the relays just like an individual race, but with an added sense of importance.
“I like to run all of my races like they’re individual races. It’s just as important, if not more important to run well because I have three other girls running with me and I want to do good for them.”
Facing stiff competition at state, the handoffs to Hill gave the Giants relays new life.
“I had to chase some people down in those anchor legs. When there’s people to chase, I just stare them down and try to catch them.”
With the 2019 track season being an extra cold and rainy one, Hill and her teammates often had to train indoors for extended periods of time, something the soon-to-be senior took in stride.
“Even when it was cold and rainy and wet, we trained hard,” Hill said. “When our meets were cancelled, we stayed at the school and ran had practices like we were at a meet. And we just took it all the best we could because there’s nothing you can do about bad weather.”
The success of Hill and her teammates has led a sort of Renaissance for Mesabi East track as up-and-coming Giants decide they want to be the next Ava Hill. With promising young athletes ready to fill the ranks, Hill says she’s proud that she can help the next set of Giants improve.
“You always want the younger kids to do good and carry on what the older kids are doing. We’re all super supportive of those younger kids out there and we try to help them out as much as we can by being encouraging and just letting them know that track is a fun sport to be in.”
With her future in mind, Hill says a few colleges have reached out about her post-high school plans, but that no decisions have been made quite yet.
“I’m still trying to sort things out and decide where I might want to visit and figure out what I want to study in college, things like that.”
Keeping busy in the summer, Hill has taken a few weeks off from running after state but is spending a lot of time in the gym with her basketball teammates.
“We’ve had a team basketball camp recently and then I head to the cities on the weekends for AAU basketball. That goes until the end of July. Then I have league basketball with my high school team on Thursdays.”
In between all of that, Hill will soon be back to a full schedule of weight lifting, running and training that leads right into the cross country season.
A senior in the 2019-2020 school year, the three-sport athlete says she’s ready to go all out for her final cross country, basketball and track seasons.
“My strategy is to just go as hard as I can at everything. It’s the last year and you have nothing to lose. I say just go for it.”
In addition to Hill, the All-Iron Range Girls’ Track and Field team includes:
From Mesabi East: Lexi Highland (4x100 relay), Elli Theel (4x100 relay), Kailey Fossell (4x100 relay), Hannah Hannuksela (4x100 relay, 4x200 relay), Kiarra Moehlenbrock (4x200 relay, 4x400 relay), Kora Forsline (4x200 relay, 4x400 relay, 4x800 relay), Lydia Skelton (4x400 relay, 4x800 relay), Aaliyah Sahr (4x800 relay), Bella Thomas (4x800 relay).
From Eveleth-Gilbert: Natalie Fultz (300 meter hurdles, high jump).
From Ely: Brielle Kallberg (long jump).
From South Ridge/Cherry/North Woods/Northeast Range: Elle Ridge (discus throw), Mikayla Mellesmoen (4x200 relay), Taylor Mejdrich (4x200 relay), Sophie Lenz (4x200 relay), Jaden Ellefson (4x200 relay).
From Hibbing: Ayva Burkes (400 meter dash, 4x400 relay), Kourtney Manning (4x400 relay), Elizabeth Tuomi (4x400 relay), McKenzie Maki (4x400 relay); Meara Beighley of Grand Rapids: Kia Tower and Brianna Haley of Bigfork; and Hope Schjenken of Deer River.