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BOILING SPRING LAKES—South Brunswick senior Carmen Hilliard signed a letter of intent Feb. 12 to run track and cross country at East Tennessee State University.
Hilliard admitted she “had never heard of ETSU.”
But the more she researched the university, the more she learned more about coach George Watts.
“He is just an amazing man,” she said. “I felt like I have a nice connection with him.
“Financially, everything lined up. All the roads started pointing toward ETSU—so I decided to follow it.”
She said she plans to major in exercise science with an emphasis on physical therapy.
Hilliard recently ran in her final North Carolina High School Athletic Association indoor track meet. Despite a runner stepping on one of Hilliard’s shoes, Hilliard finished third in the 1,500-meter run in 5 minutes, 20.44 seconds. Hilliard was sixth in the 1,000-meter run in 3:13.96.
Last spring, Hilliard was second in the 1,600-meter run at the NCHSSA Class 3A state meet, missing first place by 0.05 seconds.
Last fall in the NCHSAA Class 3A state cross-country meet, Hilliard ran the 5,000-meter course in 19 minutes and finished 10th, earning all-state honors.
South track coach Julie Ward said Hilliard was “a blessing.”
“You put a smile on every day and go out there and work—and then work some more. And you push every single one of these (student-athletes) to be better people and to be better athletes as well.”
In her high school career, Hilliard had little competition in county and conference races. That will change in college.
“I will have a team who is on the same level that I am athletically,” she said. “So I am going to have many people to run with. The mileage will probably increase. I’ll have access to a lot of different facilities.
“I probably mainly will be a miler (the 1,500) and maybe the 800—more mid-distance (events).”
Future teammate Chelsea Clark will lead the way for Hilliard. Clark, a junior, was ETSU’s top finisher in the NCAA South Regional Championships Nov. 9 at the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Fla. She finished 60th overall in 21:27.9 on the 6,000-meter course.
Clark is also ETSU’s top miler. On Feb. 9 in the Tiger Paw Invitational, she set a personal best in winning the indoor-mile race in 5:00.32.
Mom Wendy Hilliard said her daughter was always self-motivated.
“So I can’t say this level of success surprises me, but I do want to say thank you to everyone here (at the signing). Her education is actually going to be paid for because of everything that you guys have done to help her along the way. I think you probably have to be a parent to completely understand how grateful (we are).”