From the time Hilda Gonzalez started high school in the fall of 2017 through her first two seasons of competing in cross country, the McFarland standout completely dominated all other Kern County runners.

During Gonzalez’s freshman and sophomore seasons she never finished behind a local runner in any race other than one time, two years ago, when she took second to teammate Devianna Salcedo.

That’s why it was so surprising this season when Gonzalez lost back-to-back races, the Independence Invitational and Wolf Pack Invitational, to two different local runners.

Those rare setbacks inspired Gonzalez to finish the season strong and reassert her claim as the top girls runner from Kern County.

Gonzalez, the BVarsity All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for a third straight year, won six races this season including the Kern County Invitational before earning a spot in the state meet with a 10th place finish at the Central Section Championships.

“She just had another great season,” McFarland coach Thomas Valles said. “She kind of might have felt that she started off slower this year. That was fine. The season is long. At the beginning of the year I told her she wasn’t the runner she was at the beginning of last year. But she finished the season just as well as she has the last couple of years.”

The two second-place finishes early in the season didn’t sit well with the extremely soft spoken but highly competitive Gonzalez.

“I think it was an eye-opener for her,” Valles said. “But it was good for her. Right after that, she started grinding away in practices and got a little hungrier.”

Gonzalez certainly didn’t see it as a positive at the time.

“I hate to lose,” Gonzalez said. “It frustrated me, and it made me want to push more at practices.”

The extra bit of hard work paid off for Gonzalez.

She avenged both losses with an impressive victory at the Kern County Championships on Nov. 9, and then five days later won the South Sequoia League individual title for a third-straight year.

Gonzalez beat a pair of highly regarded runners from Bishop to win the Kern County Championships race.

“She ran amazingly at the Kern County Championships,” Valles said. “She pulled away from two very good Bishop girls, who ran phenomenal in track. During that race I told her you need to get away from these girls because I know these girls can kick because they’re half-milers and milers.”

Gonzalez followed Valles instruction, leaving the pair in the proverbial dust with a strong surge two miles into the three-mile race held at Hart Park.

That win was the highlight of the season for Gonzalez.

“It meant a lot because I thought I wasn’t going to win the race because there were two girls up there that were pushing me through it,” Gonzalez said.

Valles believes the key to Gonzalez’s success is her fierce competitive nature.

“She loves to compete,” Valles said. “She’s very quiet. She doesn’t say a word during practice. She’s not vocal at all. But she’s very lethal when it comes down to racing. She wants to win.”

Winning is something Gonzalez has a lot of experience doing. She has 18 first place finishes so far during her high school cross country career.

All that success has drawn the attention of college cross county coaches. The ultra-talented and hard-working junior already has 10 schools interested in her.

It’s also made her a target for all the other competitors almost every time she races.

That’s something not lost on Gonzalez, who acknowledges that she feels the pressure knowing that everyone is gunning for her.

“It makes feel like they’re going to try staying up there with me and try beating me, so it makes me push more,” Gonzalez said.

That’s obviously much easier said than done.

“I really don’t like losing,” Gonzalez said.

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