Dec. 11, 2017

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the University of Virginia, the women’s track & field program has lagged behind the men’s in recent years. Head coach Bryan Fetzer expects that gap to close in 2017-18, especially during the outdoor season, and Halle Hazzard is one of the reasons why.

Hazzard is a freshman sprinter from the town of Commack on Long Island, New York. If her last name is familiar to those who follow UVA track & field, there’s a good reason. Her brother, Payton Hazzard, was an All-America sprinter for the Cavaliers.

Payton, who’s five years older than Halle, graduated from UVA in 2015 with a double major in anthropology and foreign affairs.

During her brother’s college career, Halle said, “I came down [to Charlottesville] all the time to watch his races or just to visit him.” Payton, however, declined to act as a recruiter for UVA when his sister was choosing a college.

“She’s her own person,” said Payton, who holds UVA records in the 400 meters (both indoors and outdoors) and as part of the 4×400 relay team (outdoors). “I didn’t want her necessarily to follow in my footsteps.”

Halle said: “He was completely neutral. This was all my decision. I just liked the fact that UVA is a perfect balance between athletics and academics. So it just seemed like the perfect fit for me. I can’t go wrong.”

Payton enrolled at UVA in the summer of 2011. That December, Virginia hired Fetzer to oversee its track & field and cross country programs.

Because of Payton’s experience at UVA, said Fetzer, who coached the team’s sprinters until this year, the Hazzards knew “how we would take care of [Halle]. I think the biggest part was the trust that we’re going to help their daughter grow as a young woman and then as an athlete.”

Like her brother, Halle starred at St. Anthony’s High School on Long Island and has represented Grenada, a Caribbean nation, at international meets. Their father is from Grenada, and their mother is from Trinidad. (Halle and Payton have an older sister, Ariel, who was on the track & field team at Boston College.)

Halle, who was born in the United States, came late to track & field. She focused on gymnastics until she was in the seventh grade. She tried cross country before taking up track as a ninth-grader.

For all of her considerable athletic ability, her transition to the sport was rough, Hazzard said. “I’ve always watched running throughout my life, but it’s more difficult than it looks.”

Payton said he always expected his younger sister to pick up track, “because my older sister ran, and I ran. To be honest, I didn’t really like her doing gymnastics. I thought it was a dangerous sport.”

He’s advised his younger sister on classes to take as UVA. As for her track career, Payton “just said, `Have fun. Enjoy yourself,’ ” Halle recalled. “He’s a huge supporter. Always has been.”

Halle, who won two state titles at St. Anthony’s, arrived in Charlottesville this summer around the same time as sprints coach Michelle Freeman, who took over that role from Fetzer.

Fetzer is thrilled about the new member of his coaching staff. A native of Jamaica, Freeman is a three-time Olympian who in 1992 won a bronze medal in Barcelona. (She also competed in Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000.) She captured two NCAA titles at Florida — in the 100-meter hurdles and the 4×400 relay — and was an eight-time All-American.

Freeman, 48, has coached four Olympians, 25 All-Americans and seven individual NCAA individual champions.

“It’s amazing to work with her,” Hazzard said. “She’s a professional in this field. So I really try to listen to her, and I really try to practice what she’s telling me to do, and I just think all the time about what she’s saying and try to get it down, so I can get better.”

Hazzard remains an unpolished talent.

“There’s a lot of things that we’re working on with her,” Freeman said. “There’s a lot of things that we have to change in order for her to get better.

“She’s a late bloomer in the sport, with lots and lots of potential, but it’s going to take us time to get there, because there’s a lot of bad habits she has from gymnastics carrying over into track that will not work in track.”

Case in point: “In gymnastics you point your toes a lot,” Freeman said. “In track that doesn’t work.”

Hazzard is “a pleasure to work with,” Freeman said. “Anything that I’ve asked her to do, she’s done. I have no trouble getting her trying to do the right things, but it’s going to take a little while for her to grasp what she needs to do. Eventually she will get there.”

Hazzard is quiet by nature, and Freeman is trying to get her to open up more.

“She’s very passive,” Freeman said. “In sprinting, there’s no such thing as a passive sprinter. Sprinting is aggressive, and I’m trying to tap into those things for her.”

Freeman said Hazzard’s parents told her that when their daughter competes, “she wakes up. But this is a little different level of competition. You’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to be prepared for it. You can’t just go there and [flip a switch].”

Hazzard said she knows she has “a ton of learning to do, but that’s also really good, because I can accomplish so much more.”

She wants to distinguish herself in the classroom as well as on the track at UVA. Her sister is an attorney, and their brother, after pursuing a professional career in track, is applying to graduate schools. Their parents have always stressed education, said Halle, who plans to major in political science.

“From Day One, they’ve always said education comes first, education over sports, so I’ve really tried to live that out,” said Halle, whose rooms with teammate Khyasia Caldwell-Adams, a jumper who also plays basketball at UVA.

The Hazzards have many relatives in Grenada, and Halle visited the country last summer for the first time in many years.

“The experience was amazing,” she recalled. “I really had no idea what to expect, but I loved it. It’s such a beautiful island. I met so many family members.”

The indoor season starts next month for the Cavaliers. At last year’s ACC indoor championships, the UVA men finished second and the women 10th.

Hazzard will compete in the 60-meter dash, the 200 and, perhaps, on the 4×400 relay this winter. She’ll run the 100, the 200 and on the 4×100 relay outdoors.

She’s spent the fall — cross country season — training with UVA’s other sprinters under the direction of Freeman.

“They’re working on strength, they’re working on their core, they’re working on technique,” Fetzer said.

Hazzard said: “I’m actually glad that we’ve had the fall to train, because I really feel like I needed the practice. I needed the time with Michelle, and I just need to learn more about track & field before I go out there [to compete].”

Her goal is to represent Grenada at the Olympics in 2020. That’s a long way off, and she has yet to prove herself in college. Still, her promise is undeniable.

“Once she gets some things cleaned up, she has the potential to do some pretty special things,” Fetzer said.

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