Leader of the Pack: C of I runner a Coyote legend in the making
On the surface, Hillary Holt seems like your average undergraduate at The College of Idaho. Friendly, bright and engaging, Holt blends in with her peers as she attends classes and participates in social activities on the C of I campus.
But beneath Holt’s unassuming exterior lies a ferocious competitor – a competitor who is one of the best NAIA student-athletes in the nation. With five national championships and five All-American titles already under her belt, Holt is simultaneously rewriting the C of I record books and paving the way for future generations of Coyote excellence.
“The College has taught me how to work hard and be a more mature individual,” Holt said. “I’ve learned how to better carry myself and make sure that everything that has my name on it represents the best that I can do. I always hope that what I put out there is something people can look up to.”
Holt already has set a high bar. She burst on the scene as a freshman, winning the Cascade Collegiate Conference 1,500-meter championship. As a sophomore, she placed second at the CCC Cross Country Championships and captured the 1,500-meter title at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships – a victory that made her the first individual champion in the nearly 100-year history of the C of I track program.
Now a junior, Holt has not wavered in her pursuit of excellence. In fall 2012, she cruised to victory at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, completing the course in 17 minutes flat to win by 20 seconds and lead the C of I women’s team to a second-place finish. At the 2013 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships, Holt won individual national titles in the mile and 3,000-meter races and helped the Yotes distance medley relay team win a national title in that event.
Those who know Holt best say the team’s recent run of success is even more important to her than the individual accolades she is rapidly accumulating.
“Hillary is dedicated to doing everything she can for the team,” C of I track and cross country coach Pat McCurry said. “After the national cross country race, she shared with me that a spectator yelled during the race: ‘You have two teammates making a run at the top 10!’ Hillary said that gave her the biggest surge of energy she could have experienced. Her reflections on her performances nearly always revolve around the team concept – not her individual accomplishments.”
Holt’s running career began at Mountain View High School in nearby Meridian, where she helped the Mavericks win a 5A cross country state championship in 2008. She also was part of back-to-back state titles in the 4x800-meter relay, helping set an Idaho state record that stands to this day. Holt carried her winning habits to the C of I, where she has worked even harder to become the best.
“Hillary is very hardworking,” said teammate Sora Klopfenstein. “I find her on the living room floor doing abs work at night and she doesn’t miss any of her runs. I think the most important thing Hillary does is that she organizes her day around running – she makes sure she gets enough sleep, she eats well and she trains well.”
Performing in the classroom is just as important to Holt as succeeding on the track or cross-country course. During the 2011-2012 season, she earned Cascade Conference All-Academic Team honors in both cross country and outdoor track for maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5. Through the College’s PEAK Curriculum, Holt is majoring in exercise science and minoring in Spanish, political economy and coaching.
“Academics are really important to Hill,” Klopfenstein said. “I honestly don’t know how she does it, but she gets great grades and makes the time to do her exercise routines, too.”
As for the future, Holt said she hopes to keep running a focus in her life, pursuing the sport “as far as it will take me.” She isn’t sure exactly what career path she will take, but for now, she’s focused on making sure everything she does at the C of I – athletically, academically or otherwise – is of the highest quality.
It is an approach that has made Holt the best distance runner in the NAIA. And if she can keep up the pace, it just might make her the most decorated Coyote athlete of all time.
Hillary Holt and the C of I women's cross country team placed second at NAIA nationals in 2012 Sarah Johnson (9th) and Sora Klopfenstein (10th) joined Holt in the top-10 for the Coyotes, while Holt, Madison Crookham, Kenna Middleton, Myja Maki, Andi Hayes and Elynn Smith were named NAIA Scholar-Athletes. "We have many elite athletes in our program," coach Pat McCurry said. "Having three runners in the top-10 is a stunning accomplishment."