Blaine cross country coach Carey Bacon offered a bold, attention-grabbing statement with the first words he spoke of senior Hillary Kiele.
“She is the best captain I have ever had,” he said in a phone interview.
High praise, indeed, but from Bacon’s account the compliment is well-warranted, to say the least.
Kiele, who owns the fifth fastest girls’ 5,000-meter time in the Northwest Conference this season, has served as team captain since she was a sophomore. She is the school’s ASB President, owns a 4.0 GPA and has an ambition to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy next fall.
Leadership is deeply embedded in Kiele’s fabric, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really like trying to help everyone reach their full potential,” Kiele said in a phone interview. “I want to see them reach the goals they set at the beginning of the season, and mainly I try to strive for leadership positions because I want to do it as a career.”
While every team throughout the Northwest Conference has unquestioned leaders, Kiele’s direct effect on her teammates spawns both from her willingness to share her knowledge and the fact Blaine’s small roster allows the senior to make a larger impact.
Between the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams Blaine has roughly 16 athletes. The Borderites’ girls’ team, which had only two runners when Kiele was a sophomore, has five this season. The rest are boys. Both teams train together, and Bacon said Kiele leads both.
In most cases appointing a sophomore to team captain could be seen as a risk, but what Bacon said he saw in his runner two years ago were all the traits a coach could ask for.
“She paid attention to all the details, and what goes into a season” Bacon said. “She asks questions, and she wanted things to run right and run well.”
And Kiele’s support and sportsmanship extend beyond her teammates.
Lynden Christian standout runner Sarah Ball and Kiele have gone back-and-forth all season long, and both Bacon and Kiele detailed a moment the two shared while running in an Oct. 1 meet at Anacortes High School.
The two were neck-and-neck the entire race until late, when Ball began pulling ahead. Kiele told Ball “good job” as she was passed, which prompted Ball to offer Kiele her own words of encouragement.
“She saw I was fading,” Kiele explained. “She said, ‘Stay with me. We can do this together.’ That really made me think, ‘Oh, wow, maybe I can do this,’”
Bacon said Kiele “was glowing about how that girl helped her in the race,” and that willingness to credit Ball for her strong finish, which was a season-best 20 minutes-flat, embodies Kiele’s cross country spirit.
But even though Kiele may be known for her ability to lead, she’s also a proven talent using a running style Bacon described as “grinding.” While Bacon said she runs comfortably, he admitted it’s not easy for her.
And this season Kiele has her sights set on reaching the state meet for the first time in her career.
Each of the last two years she’s trained hard enough to reach the 1A tri-district meet only to come up just short of a state berth. Last season’s disappointment still remains with her today.
“I worked really hard last year, and for some reason with what I ate in the morning (of the race) it didn’t work right, and I got sick at the end of the race,” Kiele said. “I was throwing up. It was pretty bad. ... I determined it was a freak accident and want to make it to state this year.”
Even with Blaine’s jump to 2A this year, Kiele’s times are in line with what it takes to qualify for state, and Bacon would be thrilled for her to run in Washington state’s pinnacle race.
“She has an excellent chance to make it to state,” Bacon said. “I just can’t think about anything but praise. Every team has them, but she has stood out for me on the girls’ side as the total package.”