Hilton brings experience to young Bearden cross country team

In sixth grade, Chase Hilton was looking for a way to get in shape for the upcoming soccer season, so joining his middle school’s cross-country team seemed like a good idea.

Hilton hasn’t played soccer since middle school, but he has become a standout at Bearden on both the cross country and track teams.

“I just took up running, and I loved it,” Hilton said.

While at Bearden, Hilton, a senior, has broken the 800-meter record for track, and he is only three seconds away from beating the mile record, which was set in the 1970s. He’s also still hoping to beat Bearden alum and University of Tennessee cross country and track runner Tyler Freeman’s 5K record.

“He naturally is a good runner,” head cross country Coach Patty Thewes said. “He genetically is a good runner, and he is just a naturally talented runner and not everybody posseses that because a lot of people have to work really hard to get where they’re at.

“When he pushes himself, he does outstanding, because he’s gifted to begin with.”

Hilton plans on joining a former Bearden cross country and track standout, Rebecca Stover, to run at Alabama next year. Hilton intends to focus more on track and improving his forte, the 800-meter event.

“He naturally is more of an 800-meter runner,” Coach Thewes said. “And he’s such a talented runner that he does well with cross-country, but I think where he shines the most is on the track.”

Bearden’s young cross country team has greatly benefited from Hilton’s experience and natural running ability this season after losing a talented team of graduating seniors last year, four of whom were among the Bulldogs’ top five runners. Hilton has had the difficult task of filling in those missing gaps.

“It’s been pretty difficult to step up because I am usually a follower and not much of a leader, and I’ve just had to lead mostly this season so it’s been a tough challenge,” Hilton said.

Added senior Ryan Walker: “I think that a lot of the younger runners do look up to him as far as what a good runner looks like…As far as four years down the road, if they can be near where he is because he’s really good, and they look to that.”

Hilton has also had to help his team transition to a totally new coaching staff this season as well.

“It’s a complete 180 turn,” Hilton said. “Our old coach was traditional, and our new coach has a lot of variety.”

Added junior Peyton Givens: “Getting new coaches, I think, has all been very different for all of us, and I think that [Hilton] has really adapted well.”

Hilton and Walker are the only two seniors on Bearden’s cross country team this year, but Givens said that both seniors have been able to help keep the team focused.

Even though this year was suppose to be more of a rebuilding year, given the fact that Bearden has 15 underclassmen, and despite the huge gap in times between last year’s top five and this year’s top five runners, the Bulldogs have still been a competitive force this season, placing in the top three at every meet that they have competed in so far.

“The team has already surpassed my expectations for the year,” Coach Thewes said. “When I was looking at this year, I thought that we were really not even going to be in the running or even close to qualifying for state, and especially as a team for the boys, and at the time I couldn’t even imagine it happening.”

The Bulldogs compete in the KIL meet on Thursday, hoping to qualify for the region. Individually, Hilton said he wants to place in the top 10 in the state meet and in the top five in the region meet.

“There are a lot of guys that are within the top ten,” Coach Thewes said. “ And where he nets out I am not sure, so we’ll have to see how he runs at KIL and we’ll have to see where he places with those guys, but they’re all close.”

Coach Thewes said that a few runners are right under the 16-minute range and that Hilton is right at 16 minutes.

“So it’s all coming down to who runs the fastest within the last couple of weeks,” she said.