SJA, Catholic repeat as Metro champs _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS St. Joseph's Academy runner Annie Hill: 'I’ve only run in two races this fall because I had a retreat one weekend. I haven’t run as fast as I’d like to yet. But I’m excited to keep improving and see what the season has in store for me and the team.'

There was a time when Louise Hill loaded her two oldest children into a two-seated stroller for training runs. Eventually her daughter insisted on getting out so she could run the last quarter mile.

Fast-forward more than a decade, and Annie Hill is still on the run. Things may not always move as fast as the St. Joseph’s Academy junior wants, but no one ever questions her desire to finish.

“I’ve only run in two races this fall because I had a retreat one weekend,” Hill said. “I haven’t run as fast as I’d like to yet. But I’m excited to keep improving and see what the season has in store for me and the team.”

It didn’t take Hill long to become a household name. She burst onto the cross country scene two years ago and won every race she competed in except for the Class 5A race at the LHSAA’s State Cross Country meet in Natchitoches.

A viral infection forced Hill to miss several races during her sophomore season. But she came back to run an impressive three-mile time of 18 minutes, 24.60 seconds at the Metro meet before placing second individually to help SJA win the Class 5A state title.

That state title was the big payoff for Hill, who is embracing yet another role — one that involves added leadership — this fall.

“The majority of the team is juniors,” Hill said. “We’re working with the seniors we have who are great leaders. We just don’t have a lot of them.

“We’ve never had to be leaders before. But we couldn’t ask for a better freshman group to work with. Our job is to step it up and make sure everyone stays focused.”

St. Joseph’s coach Mark LaHaye sees the contradictions in the roles for Hill, who grew up watching her mother compete in longer distance races, including marathons. After missing one meet because of the retreat, Hill placed fifth in 18:58 at the Christian Brothers Invitational held in Abita Springs last weekend. Class 5A rival Mandeville finished 13 points ahead of the Redstickers to win the team title.

“After the race, I told Annie the only thing she didn’t do was take her own advice,” LaHaye said. “She told the freshmen to relax and go out and run. When Annie was a freshman, she was fearless. She just went out and ran. I’d like to see her just cut loose and do that again.”

Louise Hill added, “We tell her to go buy a compact mirror and look in it. The toughest opponent she has is herself. Sometimes she thinks too much. She’s her own toughest critic.”

Hill’s competitive streak, combined with her attention to detail, has served her well in cross country, track and the classroom. She carries a 4.0 GPA and wants to be a physical therapist who works with athletes some day.

For now, Hill’s emphasis is on being the best athlete she can be. Her goal is to compete on the college level. Older brother Pierce — the other youngster in the stroller — already is. The former Catholic High standout is running for Tulane as a freshman this fall.

“When we were in middle school, we were rivals,” SJA’s Gabbi Chauvin said. “And we also got to be friends. Annie is the best teammate. She works so hard at practice every day and sets a great example. People watch her and want to be like that.”

As her mother prepares for the New York Marathon on Nov. 1, Hill is bracing for an important part of her season. SJA is taking this week off and will host its St. Joseph’s Academy Invitational on Oct. 3 at Highland.

The Catholic High Invitational follows Oct. 10.

“I’m ready to lower my times as the season goes on,” Hill said. “We’ve still got a lot of meets left.

“We won state last year, and that’s a great memory. We don’t want to reminisce anymore. We want to make new memories.”