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Golden Valley's Azaria Hill: Athlete in her blood

The freshman track and field athlete is the next star in her family

Posted: May 17, 2013 10:51 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2013 10:51 p.m.

Golden Valley freshman Azaria Hill won four Foothill League titles this year and will compete in today's CIF-Southern Section Track and Field Championships.

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Clusters of runners whiz by every couple of minutes.

Coaches stand with stopwatches in hand, once in awhile barking out times and instructions.

The area surrounding this 400-meter long oval track is crawling with athletes. Some are running, some jumping and others stretching or warming up.

This, in general terms, is where Golden Valley freshman Azaria Hill grew up.

It’s where she and her brother and sister used to hang out while their mom was coaching track and field at College of the Canyons through the years.

It also happens to be where Azaria Hill is kick-starting what appears to be an incredible career.

“I’ve personally never seen a freshman come in and hold such a high standard in her training and everything, and it’s obviously paid off for her because her hard work clearly shows in her performance,” says Golden Valley sprints coach Sara Soltani. “I think it just motivates the rest of her team. We have seniors on the team that look up to her.”

Hill, the daughter of two former Olympic athletes and sister to a former professional baseball player, is the epitome of a natural-born athlete.

Yet even for someone who comes from a blood line of world-class athletes, Hill is accomplishing things this year that none of her family members or coaches thought possible.

And she’s doing it all before her 15th birthday.

“Some say, ‘Don’t grow up too fast’ or ‘You’re just a freshman. You have three more years,’” Hill says. “And I say, ‘I know, but I want to do as much as I can every year, and more.’ That’s what I want to do. Make history.”

Actually, she’s already made history in some ways.

She broke the school record in the 100-meter dash three times already this year with her latest and best mark of 11.87 seconds coming at last weekend’s CIF-Southern Section Division II prelims in Moorpark.

Hill is also 0.2 seconds short of a Golden Valley record in the 200 and she ran a leg in both record-breaking 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.

She won Foothill League titles in all four events.

Today at Mt. San Antonio College, she’ll try for CIF crowns in the 100, 200 and 4x100.

This is already creeping into unprecedented territory for a freshman who has only been running track competitively for two years.

“I am shocked. I didn’t expect this,” says Denean Howard-Hill, Azaria’s mother and trainer. “I didn’t know what to expect from her. I just wanted her to go out there and do the best that she could.”

Denean won an Olympic gold medal and two silvers as a member of the U.S. 4x400 relay teams in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Summer Games.

She was Azaria’s age, 14 years old, when she first qualified for the Olympic track and field team. But she didn’t compete due to the U.S.’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

In high school, Denean won two CIF state titles in the 200, two in the 400 and a total of three in various relays, mostly at Kennedy High in Granada Hills.

All but one of those titles were collected after her freshman year.

“I think (Azaria) is a little faster than I was as a freshman,” Denean says.

But Azaria, who is called ‘Z’ by most who know her, wants to get faster.

“Very high,” Azaria says of what standard she wants to set. “Where nobody else can reach it. And if they try to, then that’s great. But that’s what I’m trying to do every year.”

And that goes for anything she does, including basketball. Hill was a starting forward for the Golden Valley varsity team this season in her first attempt at organized basketball.

When it came to track and field though, Azaria first caught the bug much earlier.

For the past 20 years, Denean has served as an assistant track and field coach at COC, where she trains sprinters.

Azaria would spend long evenings with her mom at the COC track, running lap after lap just for fun.

“‘Mom, I ran another lap, Can I do another one?’” Azaria remembers asking. “And my mom would be scared and she’d say, ‘No Z, not another one.”

Growing up, Azaria was never pushed into playing sports, nor were her two older siblings.

Her mother and father, five-time world champion boxer and 1984 Olympic silver medalist Virgil Hill Sr., wanted to take the approach of waiting for their kids to find their passion.

Virgil said he could see Azaria’s drive early on. It reminded him of Denean at a younger age.

“She sets the bar so high for herself,” Virgil says of his daughter. “Most kids just want to go to the next round.”

Then again, most kids don’t grow up in a household like the Hills.

Azaria’s brother, 23-year-old Virgil Jr., was a three-sport star at Valencia High School in football, baseball and track before graduating in 2006.

He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, and he went on to play four years in the minor leagues.

The middle child is 19-year-old Alaysia, who is a good athlete in her own right, but she chose to forgo sports in high school.

It’s a close-knit family, but, as the kids grew up, it became a house full of people who loved to compete and, even more, hated to lose.

“I think with (Azaria) growing up like that, our house is always a challenge,” Denean says. “Everything we do, it’s a game, it’s a contest, so she’s used to doing that. It just kind of goes through the rest of her blood just to be very competitive.”

Sometimes it’s as petty as fighting for the high score in a Nintendo Wii video game or a card game at home. Other times, Virgil Jr. will tease his little sister about how much better of an athlete he was in high school.
Virgil Sr. quips, “Yeah, but you didn’t do it your freshman year.”

That’s how it is in this family. They don’t know any other way.

“It’s just like mom and dad to me just how another person has mom and dad,” Azaria says. “They’re just mom and dad, brother and sister to me.”

Yes, it’s just another family.

And Azaria Hill is just another sprinter — one who’s been conditioned by a lifetime at the track.

This is who she is though. This is where she lives.


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