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The City Journals

Hillcrest’s Davies: considered school’s best runner since 1970s, set to break school records

Nov 05, 2020 11:37AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High cross country runner Anthony Davies raced at the 3-mile Timpanogos Invitational race Sept. 5, clocking in at 15:07. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“It was definitely a defining moment.”

In mid-February, Hillcrest High cross country and track distance runner Anthony Davies broke the stretched finish-line tape at the Simplot Games, which is considered to be North America’s premier indoor high school track meet. He ran a 9:24.4 on the Idaho 200-meter track.

In fact, he didn’t lose a 2-mile race last winter.

“That was the first big race I’ve won,” Davies said. “It felt really good. I mostly liked just breaking the tape. I knew I had a shot at it. By the end of the race, I felt really good on the last lap and was like ‘hey, I can win.’ That was when I started being actually fast, I guess. I had run some good times, but that was the first time I had beaten some really fast guys.”

A second defining moment Davies hopes will be at Utah’s 5A state cross country meet, which was slated for Oct. 22, days after the City Journals' print deadline. (Online Editor's Note: Davies finished third with a time of 17:10.)

“The returning champion is going to be there and he’s definitely better than last year, so it’s going to be tough,” Davies said.

However, Davies also is running faster than he was last season and has a good chance, his cross country and track coach Scott Stucki said.

“He’s getting better; he had a huge jump during winter (2019-20) indoor track,” said Stucki, who said Davies is the best distance runner he’s coached in his 13 years with the Huskies. “He’s considered one of the top in the state and the best runner Hillcrest has had since the 1970s. But it comes down to the environment and the pressure he puts on himself.”

Davies said he tries not to stress as he goes through his race preparations from eating pasta the night before to listening to music and doing the same warm-up and stretching routine before the race. He favors the slow start of a race as he said he feels better at the end of the race versus a fast start where he “feels like crap by the time I get to the last mile.”

At state, Davies knows he will be pushed by other top runners. 

The race is at Soldier Hollow, a COVID-induced venue change from Salt Lake City’s Sugar House Park. It’s a hilly, dirt course that Davies ran in 15:25 on Sept. 12, a day after Bountiful High’s Dalton Mortensen ran 2 seconds slower.

Mortensen, however, beat Davies by 18 seconds Oct. 9 in divisionals at Lake Side Park in Vineyard, which is a flat, grassy course. That’s the same course Davies had run his fastest 3-mile time ever at 15:07.

“Times won’t mean anything,” Stucki said. “Everyone runs Soldier Hollow that day, so it comes downs to the race and who is feeling better that day.”

Davies said that at divisionals and at some other meets this season, spectators weren’t allowed to attend in response to COVID-19 and that was “definitely weird” not having his parents or a crowd cheering. 

He, and several other members of the team, has been self-quarantined as a precaution since late September when a member of the girls’ cross country team tested positive for COVID-19. Davies ran the Sept. 26 Digger Invitational 5,000 meters—and won that meet by a sizeable margin—and has remained quarantined, returning to the Midvale school campus only for training. 

His workouts are usually the same as his teammates although Stucki may adjust them so Davies runs more mileage or has faster splits during speed workouts.

“I have realized running with a teammate is a lot easier. I have done that on a few of our workouts where I’ve slowed down and run with Charles (Hooper, who has been running second this season for the Huskies) a little bit. That is definitely easier, but this sport isn’t about being easy,” he said, adding that he likes speed workouts best. “Going fast feels nice.”

Davies also spends his time outside of class with his team.

“I really like the cross country and track team. We’re all pretty good friends,” he said. “That’s pretty much where all my friends are from.”

Stucki knows that peer recruiting works best. 

His former top runner Zac Hastings, class of 2019, approached Davies to run for the Huskies after Davies finished second in Canyons School District’s intramural cross country race as an eighth-grader. The two runners’ families knew each other from church. That bonding and mentoring—and catching a ride with Hastings for early summer morning practices—helped develop Davies into the school’s top runner.

Davies always has been an all-around athlete. He has run, swam competitively, played football on Midvalley Elementary’s playground and shot hoops with his friends there. He even competed in Sandy’s “I Can Tri” triathlon as a kid, finishing behind his sister, Katelyn, who was a stand-out athlete in swimming and tennis for the Huskies and now is swimming at Utah State University.

As a freshman, Davies played basketball for the Huskies in the off-season before he gave it up the next year to run indoor track.

“I like basketball; it was fun,” he said, adding that he will still play a pick-up game with his running teammates or challenge them in ultimate Frisbee. “A lot of people were telling me that I had a chance to be really good at running, and so to be better, I did indoor track instead of basketball.”

His sophomore track season, in addition to distance, he ran 300 hurdles to train for the steeplechase, an event he tried and liked. After one race, he qualified for the Great Southwest Classic Track Meet in New Mexico, where he medaled, and missed the school record by two-tenths of a second.

Since then, Davies has focused on distance running. He even gave up playing with Hillcrest’s top chamber orchestra last year to train.

“He’s a great kid and well-liked,” orchestra teacher RaNae Dalgleish said. “He was a hard-worker and talented cello player, but he decided to dedicate his time to running.”

Davies’ commitment to running is self-motivated; he wants to become faster, Stucki said.

“I wanted to focus on this one thing that I can be good at, so pretty much I just do running now,” Davies said. “If there’s something that I enjoy and I want to get better at it, I’ll work on it and I’ll keep working on it until I get to where I want to be.”

Davies said that he is able to prepare himself mentally, which “definitely helps me run faster,” but also listens to his teammates.

He said last winter, he joked around with his teammate and girlfriend, Paris Snow, and it has turned into encouragement to run faster. 

“We had a joke going for a while to make sure each other was staying confident. It started out as a joke, and then it became ‘hey, being confident actually helps’ and that became a serious thing. I kind of just noticed I became more and more confident and my times got better,” Davies said.

Regardless of not having a track season six months ago because of the Utah High School Activities Association canceling spring sports in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stucki said Davies still has been getting interest from teams as far away as South Carolina and North Carolina State, but also from the Air Force, Navy, Brigham Young University, Weber State University, Idaho State University and Utah State University.

Davies is undecided which Division 1 school he wants to attend. The 4.0-GPA senior, who, with an ACT college entrance exam score of 33, was recently named a National Merit semifinalist. He also is undecided what he will study at college. However, Davies’ Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics teacher knows he will be successful.

“He is a driven young man in the classroom, just like he is on the cross country course,” teacher Sam Richins said. “Anthony expected to achieve high marks and took the steps required to make sure that happened. He is a respectful, kind, goal-oriented student.”

Davies, who was named Academic All-State team, said he has been able to put what he’s learned in some classes, such as psychology and sports medicine, into his training. However, he added that between early morning practices and homework, he should have learned time management, which he admits, “I’m still not great at.” 

Davies is a natural leader, Hillcrest assistant cross coach Shannon Hurst said.

“Anthony is a good example to his teammates with his work ethic,” she said. “He has a quiet, silent leadership style. He’s awesome for the team. As a talented athlete, he’s good with younger runners and makes sure to include them and have them know what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Stucki agrees: “He’s the leader of the group. Kids look up to Anthony.”

And they follow his COVID-19 wavy hair that he likes because “it makes for better pictures in races.” He races in a unique pair of shoes—having traded one of his Nikes with teammate Derek Croft—and loves to wear shorts with cookie prints.

“I ran wearing the cookie shorts for a bunch of the indoor races. I guess when the Weber State coach saw me at the Weber State meet wearing those cookie shorts, was like, ‘who is the goofball in cookie shorts and why is he in front?’ Then, I won the race and that’s how I got his attention,” Davies said.

Teammate Hooper said Davies is his best friend.

“He and a few others keep me motivated,” Hooper said, mentioning how Davies sacrificed running his fastest to help pace him during a meet at Murray Park. “He talks to everyone and is friends with everyone. He’s kind of goofy, making jokes. Today, on the run, he grabbed a handful of berries (growing on the side of the road) and threw them at us.”

Hooper pointed out Davies knew his teammates couldn’t chase him down to throw them back—although they do try to even the score a little by teasing the four-year varsity runner calling him, “JV Davies.”

“Actually, he is a little unfair. He’s super smart. Last year, we had an AP class together and I’d watch four hours of lessons and he’d study 30 minutes since he’s pretty smart. But, he’s humble, not the bragging type even though he has the right to brag academically or with running,” Hooper said.

With COVID-19 eliminating the chance to compete at Footlocker West Regional Championships in California this December, which typically is known as one of the top races in the country, Stucki hopes Davies will be able to run both indoor and outdoor track seasons without any interruption from the pandemic.

“He may very well be able to break school records that Blaine Anderson set with a 1:52 in the 800 meter, and the mile at 4:13 from 1976. It may have even happened last spring,” Stucki said.

He also could beat the 3200-yard record of 9:27.37 set in 1991.

Davies wants to run a 9-minute 3200 this year and under 4:10 in the 1600.

In cross country, Davies’ fastest 3-mile came at the Timpanogos Invitational this year and his fastest 5K was a 15:49, which he ran at Footlocker last year. This season, he has gathered four first-place finishes, including the 5A Region 6 championship; two second places, a third and a fourth.

In track, his best run was the 3200 at the indoor Simplot Games; his 1600 meter 4:19.7 at the indoor Utah Distance Challenge in February; steeplechase was 6:28.4 at the Great Southwest Classic in 2019; and 800 meter – “ahh…a 2 flat. That one is annoying” at UHSTCA indoor championships.

His first track meet in his life was his freshman year. He ran a 4:50 that season in the 1600 and a 10:34.3 in the 3200 at state in 2018. His sophomore year 1600 meter time was 4:26.8 and his 3200 state time was 9:57.6, which Davies said it was “20 seconds off my PR (personal record).” 

Stucki said Davies also is a favorite in the spring to win the 1600 and 3200 at state, with the 1600 being Davies’ favorite.

“The 3200 gets kind of repetitive, eight laps, and the 800 is too fast. The 1600 is a nice sprint in the middle,” Davies said.

Stucki also said Davies not only has the potential to race in college, but possibly compete in the Olympic Trials.

“I can see it. He’d be the second one from Hillcrest running in the Olympic Trials,” he said, noting that Jason Lynch, HHS’09, qualified for the trials in the marathon last year. 

Davies said it’s his competitiveness that drives him.

“I have a few races that when I run well, I feel good. In the past, there have been a few races I should have won, and I had a good chance to win, and I didn’t. That feeling after, where I know I had a bad race, is a sucky feeling. So, I don’t want to have that. I train like I can to avoid having a bad race,” he said.

That includes 6 a.m. practices.

“I want to get better. I sacrifice not sleeping in. I just love seeing the improvement from race to race. So, I trained harder so I could improve more,” Davies said. “I definitely put pressure on myself, but I try not too much on because if you put too much pressure on yourself, you don’t get there. It’s not fun. So, I put pressure on myself to get better, but I don’t try to overwork myself. I still got to remember, I am in high school and I need to have fun. That’s what I like—I like to have fun with everything. I’ll be serious for the race, but after, have fun with it.” 

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