She returned to Athens wearing a state medal, to a celebratory parade through town.
Rachel Hutchison is Athens newest state champion.
She dominated in the 300 hurdles, topping the field by more than a half second.
The Athens senior finished her career as a four-time state qualifier, one of the most accomplished athletes in school history.
The thing is, this title almost never happened.
The truth is, there was a time Hutchison wasn’t sure she was going to spend all four years running track and field.
The truth is, up until the end of her sophomore year, the 300 hurdles wasn’t something Hutchison ever even really thought of running.
An elite soccer player who is committed to Division I St. Bonaventure, Hutchison considered not doing track and field her whole career.
With her travel schedule, and as she was trying to make sure she got seen by colleges, it was tough at times to balance both sports.
“That was kind of up in the air,” Hutchison said. “I wasn’t positive as an underclassmen, I wanted to focus on soccer. I’m more than thankful I stuck with it. I had a great experience with my teammates. I learned a lot about friendships, and sports in general.”
Hutchison was part of the team as a freshman and she had great succes, but her sophomore and junior years she was also trying to really focus on playing for one of the top travel teams in New York state.
Those were the years Hutchison was trying to get noticed by college soccer programs, and she was playing travel soccer as the spring went on.
“I think it was just thinking about not coming out for it,” Hutchison said of the decision process.
One of the things that drew Hutchison back to track and field were her teammates, and the relays she was a part of.
“I think the relays were a very big aspect of what drove me to come back,” she said. “I knew they were relying on me and I was relying on them. The relays were a pretty big impact on my decision.”
It wasn’t until her junior year that Hutchison really got into the hurdles, and she knows that if she hadn’t come back to run with her teammates, she may never have won this state title.
“I don’t think I would be,” she said. “I only say that because I never even got into the hurdles and my passion for it my junior year. I think by that time it would have been too late, I wouldn’t have come back to track. My teammates are so amazing. I’m so thankful to have them. They are the main reason I came out every year.
“I think it could have been different, focusing more on soccer. I have to say my teammates are a big impact on my experience.”
As much as Hutchison wasn’t sure she would do track all four years. It was also hard to predict she would fall in love with the hurdles.
For the first two years of her career Hutchison was a sprinter.
She ran the 100, the 200 and the 400, along with relays.
And, she was good. Good enough to qualify for states as an individual.
The thing was, Hutchison wasn’t as good as she felt she could be in other events.
Hutchison was Breana Gambrell winning state titles in the long jump and triple jump.
She saw Emily Lunger dominating in the high jump.
She saw Ariana Gambrell excelling in the 100 hurdles.
And, Hutchison wanted something of her own. She wanted an event that was something she could make her own.
Most 300 hurdlers are runners that got converted by their coach. Or, they run the 100 hurdles as well and have hurdled their whole careers.
Hutchison was different. She just decided on her own it was an event she thought she could do well in.
“That was actually my decision,” she said. “It was after my sophomore year and I realized every one of my teammates had individual events they were thriving in, they were doing well in. I felt like I was being shadowed by my teammates, they were really good.
“I decided I wanted to do the 300 hurdles. Don’t ask me how I thought of that one. I knew I had speed and endurance for it. I was pretty good running the 400, and I had quickness from the 100 and 200 and thought 300 was my kind of race, and it ended up my kind of race.”
It’s hard for a lot of athletes to be realistic about their abilities.
It’s hard for a lot of athletes who make states to change events, realizing they aren’t likely to win titles in the events they are running.
But, Hutchison isn’t like a lot of athletes.
Hutchison is much more self aware than many others. Hutchison could look at her times and say, ‘I’m not winning a state title in the 400. I’m not taking gold in the 200.’
So, Hutchison made the choice and switched toward the hurdles.
“It wasn’t that hard of a decision for me,” she said. “Your times don’t lie. You either have it, or not. I deep down knew I wasn’t going to beat some of those girls in the state (In the 200 and 400). I had a year of two going in the 400. I knew once I got down there my times weren’t good enough to win. I came to that realization pretty quick.”
Not many people can be that aware.
Not that many athletes can say, I need to try something else.
Hutchison is now a state champion.
“It’s a personal decision, it’s something you have to realize on your own,” she said. “Overall, I truly feel like I enjoy the hurdles more than any other race, because of the adrenaline, the focus on the hurdles, something that kind of makes me realize I’m better off in this event than some other events.”
The choice to do the hurdles quickly paid off for Hutchison as she was one of the best in the state all year last season.
Then came the semifinals at states, and she hit a hurdle, ending her hopes of a state medal.
That moment motivated Hutchison. It made her want to have a dominant season this year even more.
“It feels pretty good, I’m not going to lie,” Hutchison said. “Because of last year, I redeemed myself.
“It’s been on my mind a lot, probably since that day last year, it’s been on my mind. My goal was to focus, to get to where I am today.”
And, where she is now, is a state champion.
“It’s crazy, it’s a little unbelievable,” she said. “It’s unreal to think about, this is what I was working toward. I had the goal to achieve it, and it was a great experience for me.”
One of the big challenges about focusing on the 300 hurdles is Hutchison no longer was running a race where she had a ton of competition.
It was an event where Athens had no other state qualifiers to push her.
It was an event where she rarely had someone even close to her in meets and invites.
It was an event where Hutchison really had to push herself. Where she had to really have the drive all on her own.
“That’s what happened I ended up going into it and I was winning,” Hutchison said. “It was a little different winning. I was always used to being underneath my teammates, or other girls in the district, or the state, that were so good.
“I had to push myself through to make myself better. I always had to push myself. Going into states I was nervous. I had lost a couple times in my two season of doing the 300 hurdles, but I’d done well. To come out in states and win was crazy.”
Remember, Hutchison is also a dominant soccer player. One of the best in the state. A D1 commit, all-state, all-time leading goal scorer in Athens history.
Because of that, Hutchison isn’t like a lot of other state track and field champions.
She’s not traveling to competitions all summer. She’s not hurdling all winter long.
Hutchison is going up against girls that have been doing this all their lives. She’s going up against people that do this all year long. And, Hutchison just beat them all.
“There are a lot of girls that do this in the winter, and prepare for it, they come into the Spring prepared,” Hutchison said. “I knew there was going to be a little more stress on me. There are going to be some girls coming in that train all winter.
“But, I was a little relaxed about it. I knew I had a couple months to train. I was weightlifting with gym teacher/coach (Jake) Lezak, I was preparing. I didn’t do a winter sport, but I did a lot of weight training. The only thing I had to worry about was the hurdles.
“I know there are some girls, they do the hurdles since freshman year, they go year round. They do the 100 and the 300, and that’s a lot. For me to go out a couple times each year, I go out and I give it my all. To have to do it all year round would be monotonous and tedious for me. I feel like I am pretty happy and pretty confident.”
The state championship puts the perfect bow on one of the best seasons any Athens athlete has ever enjoyed.
Hutchison helped Athens win a district title this soccer season. She was the All-Region Player of the Year, and a dominant force in Athens championship run.
Now, after starting her year with a district title in soccer, she caps her high school career with a state title in track and field.
“It’s been one heck of a ride this year,” she said. “Sports wise it’s been crazy, my teams have been successful.”
When Hutchison started out in track and field, she was a part of a dominant program, helping the track and field team win district titles as well.
Now that Hutchison is finishing her career she’s the veteran.
“I feel like I’ve kind of matured and grown as an individual,” she said. “Once I got into the hurdles I feel like I kind of individualized myself a little more. The first couple of years, I wanted to find myself a little more.”
This year, Hutchison knew she was one of the best in the state.
Hutchison knew she was one of the leaders on the Athens track and field team, and she was happy to share her experiences with some of her teammates in the 4x400 relay that ran at states on Friday.
“For me, to be the oldest girl out of our 4x4, I was kind of looked up to more,” she said. “I was older, I had been there. I think I took the girls under my wing, just because of the experience I had from the past years. I think that gave me more confidence. I was calm and relaxed and had confidence. Being with those relays in the past, being at states all four years, it’s not something many people can say that they went to states all four years of their careers.”
When Hutchison started her track and field career she was a very good sprinter, a state qualifier, one of the better athletes in the state.
But, even Hutchison never imagined how it would end.
When she was running sprints as a freshman, Hutchison never dreamed her high school career would end with her standing atop the podium, wearing a gold medal for the 300 hurdles.
“For sure, this is crazy,” Hutchison said. “For me to say I ended my high school career with a state title, it’s something I never dreamed of going into my high school career.
“Things change all the time and I’m very grateful for everything I’ve experienced the past four years.”