Hannah Oneda, Winters Mill, center starts the girls elite race… (Photo by Kim Hairston/Baltimore…)
It's not unusual for high school athletes to change sports. It is rare, however, when they make the move and become a dominant force in a short amount of time.
Hannah Oneda began her Winters Mill athletic career as a soccer and basketball player. But late in her freshman year, she switched to cross country and track. Two years later, she's one of the top runners in the state.
"She has talent to start off with, but I think it is Hannah's dedication that makes her an elite runner," said Kelly Gruber, the Falcons' fifth-year head coach. "We haven't seen any runner come close to her yet this season."
Only one other athlete has given Oneda a run for county supremacy since the beginning of her junior year. The Westminster resident finished second in last year's Class 2A cross country state championship race to three-time state titlist Maura Linde, of Century High.
With Linde now a freshman at Syracuse University, Oneda is the favorite to capture Class 2A honors at the state championship meet, scheduled for Nov. 12 at Hereford High School.
If she wins there, Oneda will add on to an impressive list of accomplishments. The senior is already a four-time state track and field champion. In 2010-11, Oneda earned state titles in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events at both the indoor and outdoor championship meets.
She was also among the state's best at the 800-meter distance, placing third indoors and fifth at last spring's outdoor championships. In addition, Oneda ran the anchor leg in the 4x800-meter relay, helping the Falcons to top-four finishes in the indoor and outdoor events.
"She was a bit timid when she first came to us and hadn't practiced a lot that summer," said Gruber. "But she started to really dedicate herself to running, and she's an all-year-long athlete. She's practicing at close to her race pace each practice, and a lot of runners don't do that."
Running didn't appeal to Oneda, the daughter of Siniti and Victoria Oneda, when she began high school. She enjoyed running laps during recess at William Winchester Elementary, but other sports captured her attention.
"I thought that running would be so boring, because all you do is go in circles," Oneda said. "That wasn't even a sport to me, so I played soccer and basketball."
But her attitude slowly began to change. Oneda participated in outdoor track during the spring of her freshman year and decided to go out for cross country as a sophomore.
"Once I started cross country, I was hooked," Oneda said. "I made it into the top 10 in every race, and I was running in the 21-minute range. I noticed that my times were starting to go down during indoor track, and I set a goal to be in the top five every time I ran."
Now, it appears that Oneda will capture her first individual cross country championship. She has won each of her races this fall, mostly by wide margins.
But even if she wins the individual championship, Oneda won't be completely happy unless Winters Mill takes the team title.
"She has really encouraged our girls to look at the states as a team," Gruber said. "The girls haven't quite had the confidence before. But this year, they're looking to win. Hannah's rubbed off on them."
On Oct. 27, Oneda concluded her undefeated regular season with a runaway win at the county championships, finishing more than two minutes ahead of her second-place teammate, senior Nicole Rutherford. In her first outing on the hilly McDaniel College course, Oneda crossed the finish line in 18:13.75.
Now, it's on to Hereford and one of the state's most challenging courses.
"I've been doing hills as much as I can and keeping my mileage up," Oneda said. "On our easy practice days, I run about six miles, but I've picked it up to about eight miles lately."
Between sophomore and junior years, Oneda cut more than two minutes off of her cross country times. She has improved even more as a senior, lowering her times by another minute and a half.
"I like running for the goals and times that I want, not just to beat another person," she said. "I'm really running against myself, in that sense. I've become good at holding a constant pace for a long time."
Oneda is already looking forward to continuing her career at the collegiate level. Oneda is considering a pair of Ivy League schools, Columbia and Cornell, along with Johns Hopkins.
"I really want strong academics," said Oneda, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average at Winters Mill.
"I love to run, but I'm not going to college to become an Olympian. I want to help people become more aware of the environment and help save it."
To accomplish her academic goal, Oneda intends to major in global environmental change and sustainable energy, a field of study that incorporates environmental science and social science.
"It's a really new field," Oneda said. "Hopkins has only had this major for three years, and the Columbia program is also very new. Many schools have an environmental side and a policy/social science side, but few of them have really put it all together."
Before she heads of to college, though, Oneda wants to leave Winters Mill with a few more championships.
"You have to put your heart into what you do," Oneda said. "There are some days where I'm tired and might not want to go to practice or do a workout. But I know what I have to do.
"I really want the team to win states this year, and I'm trying to get to the girls and tell them to believe that we can do it."