Billie Hatch knew she would be getting good news if she received a phone call from her college head coach, though she still couldn’t believe what she heard after accepting his call.
The Dixie State sophomore was informed in mid-November that she was invited to compete in December’s NCAA Division II National Cross Country Championships in Pittsburgh.
Hatch’s hopes of making it to nationals had all but died in her mind after finishing 18th out of 205 runners in the NCAA Division II regionals on Nov. 17. Two days later while working at her job, she still waited to see if she would receive a call from Trailblazers head coach Justin Decker, who would not phone her if he had bad news.
“I thought he’d call before noon and it was about 2 (p.m.) when he called, so I kind of gave up on going and then all of the sudden he called to tell me I made it,” said Hatch, who also competes in track.
“I was like, ‘Are you sure? You’re 100 percent I made it?’”
Hatch was the second cross country runner in Dixie State history to make it to the NCAA Division II National Cross Country Championships.
An NCAA championships berth topped an already successful season for the 2017 Preston High graduate, who was a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference second-teamer, received U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Region Honors and was named to RMAC’s all-academic team with a 3.91 GPA.
On top of committing herself to six fall classes and cross country, she also had a part-time job at Dixie Applied Technology College, where she was a custodian cleaning restrooms and cafeterias. The job was not income for her classes because they are all paid for through academic and athletic scholarship money, but she wanted to keep busy.
“You can’t put everything into one basket,” Hatch said. “I can’t just run all the time. I have to have something else to do. And I can’t just study my heart out. I need that activity. I do well staying busy. … Keeping that balance and having your priorities on things you want on accomplish – I think that’s the key.”
After her call with her coach on Nov. 19, Hatch had to tell her boss on the same day that she would need time off for nationals, which were on Dec. 1.
“I go in there, and I am shaking, and I’m super excited and I’m just smiling,” Hatch said. “She’s like, ‘I’m so proud of you. Of course, you can have the days off.’”
When the sophomore arrived in Pennsylvania, there was snow on the ground. The weather conditions would not get much better henceforth, as the course was a muddy mess, especially after college runners stomped through it during the men’s nationals race.
Hatch finished 131st out of 264 runners with a time of 24 minutes, 43.9 seconds – by far her slowest race in a season in which she was the top DSU runner in every meet.
But nationals provided a picture into how much Hatch has grown as a runner since she left Preston, where she “shut down” when she made mistakes or faced issues. She pulled herself out of the mud and resumed churning with energy after each of the three times the mud-drenched runner fell down in nationals.
“I did my very best for what situations we had,” Hatch said. “I’ve come a long way, just knowing that things are going to go wrong in each race. You’ve just got to move past it, you’ve got to go to the next moment. It’s going to be fine. It’s not a bad race because of one thing that went wrong.”
Hatch has had a quick upward trajectory toward a national stage. Her running career started as a high school freshman, when she considered herself a basketball player and was pushed by her family to compete in a fall sport.
Hatch never ended up playing high school basketball, and her passion for cross country grew even faster than success arose for Hatch, who placed third twice at the Idaho 4A state championships.
While her competitive running career started late, it will also end early as the 19-year-old decided the 2019 season will be her last in college cross country and will graduate in spring 2020, even though she would have another year of athletic eligibility remaining.
Like a race, it does not hurt to get a head start in life.
“I think there’s more than just living in college,” said Hatch, who’s studying criminal justice. “I love being here, but I’m ready to get out and to go start a career, start a life.”