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Delta’s NCAA Division I University Recruit Hopes to Inspire Other Small-town Athletes

Tim Ellis/KUAC

REVISED: Delta Junction High School senior Hailey Williams has attracted national attention over the past couple of years for her record-setting sprints in short-distance events. In November, she accepted an offer to run track and study health sciences at Duke University,  becoming one of only a handful of Delta athletes to be offered a chance to compete for an NCAA Division I school.

Editor's note: This story has been revised. See note, below.

Hailey Williams’s mom, Eileen, says she first realized her daughter’s abilities when Hailey was in middle school, and her softball coaches worried she wasn’t spending enough time on base to practice running the bases.

“She was fast – so fast running on the bases that the coaches there were like, ‘We have teach her how to slow down!’ ” she said.

Eileen says it was around that time that she suggested that her daughter should consider running track. So, Hailey went out for the cross-country team – and impressed her coach.

“And he’s like, ‘I think there’s something there,’ ” Eileen said. “And then a couple of the coaches in Fairbanks actually kind of pulled me aside and said, ‘She has something there.’”

That something, of course, is her eye-popping ability to accelerate right out of the box and streak to the finish line on short-distance sprints. But Hailey says she didn’t decide to commit to track until her sophomore year, when she met an Anchorage-based running trainer who encouraged her to compete in short-distance running events at a tournament in Hawaii.

“Like, I actually broke the record there that they had for that meet,” Hailey said. “And then I came back home and just started really focusing on sprinting.”

Since then, Hailey has gone on to set seven records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints. And she set a new state championship record for the 100 last summer, in just over 12 seconds. Then she beat that by better than a half-second at a national meet in North Carolina. But it was the 200-meter event that caught the attention of Duke University Assistant Track and Field Coach Mark Mueller.

Credit Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News
Williams wins the 100-meter race at the 2018 state track and field championships in Palmer. She has set seven records for short-distance sprints at state meets over the past couple of years. She's also the first Delta High School athlete to be named a Gatorade Alaska Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“Right after I got done running the 200 meter,” she said, “Coach Mueller reached out and then we just started the recruiting process right there.”

Eileen says she and Hailey’s high school coach, Tara Owen, have both checked around and couldn't find any other examples of other Delta High School athletes being recruited for an NCAA Division I school, leading them to conclude that Hailey was the first. (See editor's note, below)

Hailey says she considered other offers, including those from the University of Oregon and another from Boise State. But she chose Duke because of its renowned School of Medicine.

“I’m really interested in like psychology and biology, maybe even nursing,” she said. “I just haven’t really quite figured that all out yet.”

Hailey says she hopes to establish a career in medicine – but first, she’d like to compete in the Olympics and becomes a professional sprinter, like Usain Bolt. She says those are personal goals that would help her inspire and counsel athletes at other small schools in Alaska.

“A lot of people don’t see the struggles and challenges that athletes go through,” she said. “They do go through quite a bit and they’re not always open about it.”

Coach Owen says Hailey already plays the role of mentor for her teammates by for example teaching them the best way to launch out of their starting blocks to improve their performance. This, even though she’s already busy with a regime that includes three monthly trips to Anchorage to work with her trainer.

“Every day, she still showed up at our meetings,” Owen said. “She still trained with us. She still did all of our group things – she was a part of our team, still.”

Eileen says she’s especially proud that Hailey holds a 4.2 grade point average – which she says didn’t come easy and, like Hailey’s athletic endeavors, required a lot of hard work.

“Her accomplishments don’t define her – her character defines her,” Eileen said. “She uses her accomplishments as a means to help others.”

Mother and daughter both say they hope Hailey’s hard work and accomplishments inspire other Alaskan students to aim high and challenge themselves to succeed – especially those who come from small towns.

Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct an earlier version that suggested Hailey was the only Delta High School athlete to have been recruited to compete for an NCAA Division I school. At least two other Delta athletes have competed at the NCAA Division I level: Jennifer Padgett and Robert Shetler.

  • Padgett graduated in 1998 and went on to play hockey for Minnesota State University.
  • Shetler graduated in 2002 and went on to compete on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s rifle team.
Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.