She put an exclamation point on the season Saturday morning at Balboa Park in sunny San Diego, finishing ninth in 17:43 at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships — a finish that earned her All-American honors.
“It was just an awesome day, and I’m honored to be an All-American and be mentioned with some of those names,” Hutchins said. “The hard work really does pay off.”
She joins the ranks of Science Hill athletes like Steve Spurrier, Daniel Norris, Lucas Altman and others to be called “All-American.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” Science Hill girls head coach Evan Meeuwenberg said. “She exceeded everyone’s expectations and probably even her own. This really takes her to a whole new level, and I think she realizes how good she can be now.
“She’s so humble and so sweet. She never says before the race what she wants to do. She always says that she wants to do her best. She has such a big heart and the sky’s the limit.”
She got redemption from a muddy South regional course. After finishing eighth two weeks ago in Charlotte, N.C., she was the highest-finishing female runner from the South.
Hutchins — who grew up watching the national meet from the age of 8 — lived one of her dreams by simply getting to the national finals. It was icing on the cake that she finished in the top 10.
“It was so cool to get to come here and run,” she said. “It really was like I was living a dream.
“The experience was unbelievable. The people out here are so generous and thoughtful.”
The race was modest at the start as the field went through the first half-mile around 2:33 for the leaders; Hutchins was sitting mid-pack at 2:36 in 24th. Her first mile split was 5:22, and she had already moved up 10 places into 14th.
“I wanted to start off conservative and stay in the middle of the pack,” she said. “I felt good after the first loop and I just wanted to pick it up. I felt good going into the second loop, and that’s when I decided I want to try to gun for it. I felt like the hill really worked to my advantage because I’ve done a lot of hills this season and I was able to be stronger going up it the second time.”
Her time on the second mile — which is one of the toughest on any course — was a 5:51. The uphill proved to be a strength for her as her toughness showed, picking up two more spots moving up to 12th.
“Coming from East Tennessee, I think she had an advantage training in the mountains,” Meeuwenberg said. “She was able to maintain so well over the last half of the race when others were falling off.”
She was one of only a handful of runners not to lose any spots over the course of the race and moved up by at least one position at every mile checkpoint.
She ran an intelligent race, especially at the end as she blazed the last 1.1 miles, which included a sharp 300-meter hill, for the second time in 6:27 (5:51 pace).
She passed two girls in the final 900 meters of the race to claim ninth position.
“The experience with getting to meet all the people out here and run with the pros was the best experience of my life,” she said.