Hidden beneath Hilda Gonzalez’s quiet and shy exterior, there is a fierce competitor inside.
The McFarland freshman cross country runner proved that this past season during the Central Section Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Despite suffering a serious leg injury just hours prior to the event, Gonzalez, the 2017 BVarsity All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, finished the ultra-tough Division I race in fifth place.
“I was disappointed,” Gonzalez said. “The day before I had got hurt in P.E. A kid stepped on my left ankle. It was swollen and painful.”
The injury caused McFarland coach Amador Ayon to consider holding Gonzalez out of the section meet.
“I thought about telling her parents, it’s not worth it,” Ayon said. “Her dad could sense (what I was thinking) so he came to me and said, ‘She wants to compete. She wants to run. She wants to do well. She doesn’t care if her foot falls off.’ That’s just her competitiveness.”
Gonzalez’s competitive nature combined with her natural ability proved to be a potent combination the entire cross country season.
She won five events — including the Kern County Championships — and finished in the top-five in every race she ran in until the state meet, where she took 62nd place in D-I.
Gonzalez was undefeated (four for four) in three-mile races. Equally impressive, she finished behind a runner from Kern County only one time all year prior to the state meet.
That occurred when she finished runner-up to McFarland teammate and 2016 BVarsity All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Dede Salcedo at the Wasco Invitational.
Having an experienced and accomplished runner like Salcedo as a teammate was a positive according to Gonzalez.
“Before I started running with the high schoolers, I knew that she was very fast,” Gonzalez said. “That she was going to be my competition. It was good because she pushed me the whole way.”
Gonzalez’s foray into competitive long distance running began in second grade as part of a McFarland Recreation and Parks District youth sports program.
“My dad told my mom to put me in because I looked like I was a very good runner,” Gonzalez said.
It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to prove her father right and start drawing the attention of McFarland’s middle school and high school running coaches including Ayon, a neighbor.
“When she came in we knew what kind of talent she had,” Ayon said. “We had seen her before... She’s very reserved. Doesn’t say anything. She lets her results do her talking for her. She just comes to practice. Does what she needs to do.”
The highlight of the year for Gonzalez was her impressive performance at the Kern County Cross Country Championships at Hart Park, where she ran the three-mile course in a time of 17:51.5, beating runner-up Taylor Smith of Stockdale to the finish line by 26.9 seconds.
Gonzalez’s goal coming into the year was to qualify for the state meet.
She clinched that with her gutsy fifth-place finish at the section championships.
However, Gonzalez didn’t fare nearly as well nine days later running the same course.
She chalks up her sub-par result at the state meet to nerves.
“That was first race that I went to with a lot of girls,” Gonzalez said. "(Next year) hopefully I can be way better. I want to get at least top-25 in state.”
Ayon is on board with that goal.
“She had a phenomenal season,” Ayon said. "She far exceeded what we had for her this year. She’s going to grow between now and next year. And she doesn’t like to lose.”