Matt Hillard's '12 indoor track season is off to a bright start after he walked away with three first-place finishes at last Saturday's Invitational Meet. Facing stiff competition from Middlebury, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and his own teammates, Hillard outpaced his opponents in all three of his events: the mile run, the 800-meter run and the 4x800-meter relay.
In the 800 and the mile, Hillard narrowly beat out two of his teammates, Colin Fong '12, and Coby Horowitz '14, respectively.
In the mile, Hillard said he went into the race "expecting to follow the leader, but ended up taking the lead."
He started off slowly, but finished the last 200 meters in a full-on sprint.
According to head coach Peter Slovenski, Hillard excels at being a kicker.
"He'll start off at the middle or back of the pack, but kicks at the end of the race. He's really courageous at the end of his races," said Slovenski.
Hillard credits his relay teammates, James Boeding '14, Fong and Horowitz, with the first-place finish in the 4x800 relay.
"I didn't have to do any of the work. They put me at a 70- or 80-meter lead, so I coasted through," said Hillard.
Hillard did not intend on running the relay, but after a teammate's injury, he agreed to step in.
"I definitely wanted to run. It is always fun when having a good day to keep it going," said Hillard.
Hillard began running track during his junior year of high school to help stay in shape for the soccer season.
He succeeded in breaking his school's record in the 3,200-meter relay. After being recruited by Bowdoin for track, Hillard made running his primary focus.
Hillard joined the cross-country team in his sophomore year at Bowdoin, in addition to running indoor and outdoor track.
Slovenski said he was amazed at Hillard's quick ability to pick up cross-country, even though he never ran it in high school.
"In his first season of cross-country, which was his sophomore year, he made the top five right away," Slovenski said. "In 20 years, I've never seen anybody come out for Bowdoin cross-country and make the top five in their first year."
Hillard said that running cross-country helped him build up his endurance for middle-distance runs.
"Last year, we could all tell he was fast and strong," Slovenski said. "But now, he is a lot stronger and his endurance is better. He uses his speed through the whole race."
After a relaxed December training, Hillard and the men's indoor track team have begun to train in full-force. Hillard said he prefers the indoor track season because of "the better atmosphere" and the chance for all of his teammates to be together.
"His teammates love him," said Slovenski. "He is best at sacrificing for the team and coming through in the clutch."
Hillard said that although track is an individual sport, he and his other teammates "wind up sacrificing a lot for the team." Whether it's training extra hard or spending two hours everyday in practice, the sacrifices are worth the solidarity of being a part of the team, said Hillard.
"He's competitive at the New England Division III championship level in races from the 800 all the way through to the 5,000, and that's very rare. I've only coached two or three guys who've got that kind of range," said Slovenski.
As the season goes on, Hillard hopes to be a part of a distance medley relay team that qualifies for nationals. Hillard plans to focus his training on the individual races, such as the 800-meter run and the mile run, in the hopes of running the 1,200-meter leg of the race.