AURORA — Ava Hill always knew she wanted to compete at the highest level in one of her sports.
The Mesabi East senior thought it would be basketball, but it was track and field that ultimately garnered her the most attention.
Hill won three championships (2017, 2018, 2019) in the 800 meters at the State Track Meet and Division I colleges came calling — even before that actually.
On Wednesday, Hill made her final decision between the University of Minnesota, Kansas and Syracuse.
With Gophers assistant track and field head coach Sarah Hopkins making a home visit that day, the Giants senior decided to become a Golden Gopher a few hours earlier. She will compete in both track and field and cross country.
Why did the Mesabi East athlete choose Minnesota?
“It was the one that felt right. It felt just more right than the other ones. I’d be the most comfortable there. I really like the coaches and the team and the area,’’ Hill said Friday morning at Mesabi East.
Did Hopkins have any special words that convinced Hill to accept the scholarship to the university in Minneapolis?
“She just said that no matter what she wanted me to make the right decision.’’ Hopkins also encouraged Hill to visit other schools and see other things before she made the decision so that she knew it was right. “And of course, she did want me to go to Minnesota. She also wanted me to make it (the decision) on my own, which was pretty awesome.’’
In the athlete-college relationship, it was Hill that made the first contact.
“I sent them an email pretty early in 10th grade just telling them that I was interested,’’ she said. “They talked to me right away as soon as they were able to.’’
What attracted Minnesota to Hill?
“I think that it’s more’’ than winning three 800 meter state championships. It was also the potential for improvement.
“I did win the state championship, but I wasn’t really challenged through most of my track career,’’ said Hill, who was also playing high school and AAU basketball at the same time. “There will probably be some improvement happening in college because I’ll be able to really focus on the track training’’ and not have to worry about basketball.
Hill is pleased with her choice between sports.
“I ended up choosing running over basketball. I really thought I was going to be playing basketball when I was younger because that was my first thing that I really enjoyed, but then I switched to running and I’m happy with that because I really do enjoy running,’’ Hill said.
As far as getting a scholarship to a Division I school, the Mesabi East student-athlete said she’s “grateful for everything that people have helped me do up until this point. I’m grateful for their offer and them recruiting me. I’m excited to go to the U.’’
Hill never assumed a scholarship would be offered, but she knew she had put in quite a bit of effort in her prep career.
“I worked really hard for something like this to happen. I wasn’t going to just expect it to happen but I was working to hopefully make it happen.’’
In addition, Hill thanked her high school coaches Steve Ekman and Kari Hunt for everything they’ve done.
“They’ve been the main factor that’s gotten me as far as I’ve gotten. Steve is the technical guy. He gets me faster and gets me in shape. Kari is the emotional support. She’s always there when I need her and I can go and talk to her about anything.’’
When practice starts at the U of M in August, Hill said she’ll start with the 800 meters and see how that goes. The coaches might move her around after determining what she can do best, she added.
She’ll also be focusing on her studies at the same time. At this point, she said it will be studying in some sort of science field. She hopes to get into medical school after college, so that might be biology or exercise science with a minor in Spanish.
In the next two weeks or so, Hill will have her sights set on the Section 7A Cross Country Meet in Cloquet.
“I just want to help my team get to state. That’s probably the main goal. I’m obviously gonna go for winning it. I want to help my teammates the best they can in the weeks before.’’ That will include the senior leader encouraging her teammates and getting them in the mindset that they can do it and they can run faster, she said.
Hill also has some advice for young athletes as her prep career winds down and she heads off to college.
“Don’t be scared to try stuff. If you want to do something, go for it and do it. Work hard for what you want,’’ she said.