By Steve Jones
6:56 PM EST, December 15, 2012
The only place where Hannah Oneda is just a face in the crowd is in Sports Illustrated.
That's where the Westminster resident landed this week. After leading the Johns Hopkins University women's cross country team to its first national championship, Oneda's photo and a paragraph on her freshman accomplishments graced the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the nation's premier sports magazine.
While the national notoriety is something new for Oneda, distance-running championships are not.
In her four years at Winters Mill High, Oneda won nine titles in cross country and track and field. This fall, Oneda went to study and run cross country at the prestigious Baltimore university.
She was happy with her individual finish at the NCAA Division III championship race, but even more excited that her Johns Hopkins women's cross country team won it all.
"My first goal was for us to win (NCAA's) as a team during my four years here," Oneda said. "As the season went on, I was starting to see that we could do it this year. We looked at the running times of the teams that were ranked before us, and about two months before the (championship) meet I thought we were going to win. It's always hard to compare, but at a certain point we all knew that we had the greatest potential.
"Anything can happen on race day, so we didn't want to get too excited. We just ran it like any other race, and that's why we did so well," she said.
Oneda was the only freshman to post a top-10 individual finish at the championship meet, which was held in Terre Haute, Ind.
Her 10th-place showing, in a time of 21 minutes, 26 seconds, earned Oneda All-America recognition, along with teammates Holly Clarke (25th) and Annie Monagle (32nd).
The cross country title was the first championship in any sport for the Johns Hopkins women's athletic program, and the school's first Division III title overall since men's swimming won it all in 1979.
Hopkins finished 63 points ahead of runner-up Wartburg. It was the greatest margin of victory in a Division III cross country championship race since 2002.
Prior to the NCAA championship meet, Oneda showed the form that made her an All-America. She earned the Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year honor, and her first-place finishes in the conference and Mid-East Regional meets led Hopkins to championships in those events and propelled the Blue Jays into the NCAA's for the sixth consecutive year.
"The adjustment (to college cross country) wasn't really that bad," Oneda said. "I was on top of my summer training. I had a clean slate going in, with no expectations.
"The workouts here were more intense, but I didn't find it difficult to handle. We did extra things, like pool running and weight-room workouts. During the season, I felt that my form was getting better. I'm also stronger and have a little more speed."
She's also a little less stressed. Despite moving up to college-level competition, Oneda didn't get the jitters that she experienced before her many races at Winters Mill.
"The biggest difference between my running in high school and here is that I have not been nervous for a college race at all," she said. "I was always a nervous wreck in high school, and I really don't know why. I run a lot better when I'm relaxed."
While Oneda was excelling on the cross country course, she also had to adjust to student life at one of the nation's top universities. Her full load of 15 credits included courses in chemistry/chemistry lab, population ecology, global social change, an introductory course on Global Environmental Change and Sustainability and a freshman anthropology seminar.
"In high school, it was the same thing every day," Oneda said. "I like the freedom of having control over my own schedule in college.
"But the workload is huge here, compared to high school. You think you have free time, but it's a false sense because of the workload. You really have to stay on top of your work if you want to do well academically."
In less than two years, Oneda will get a chance to greatly expand her academic freedom. Johns Hopkins encourages students to study abroad in their junior year, and Oneda plans to take advantage of that opportunity.
"I'm not here just to run," said Oneda, who is majoring in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability. "I'm hoping to go to Japan. The Eastern culture is definitely on the rise in terms of green energy, more so than we are here. I also want to go to Japan because that's my heritage, and I've never had the opportunity to go there."
But before she heads to the Far East, Oneda has several more opportunities to excel. She hopes to improve even more during her indoor and outdoor track seasons for the Blue Jays.
When the cross country team congregates again next August, six of its top seven NCAA finishers will be on the starting line.
Oneda should compete for the Division III individual title, while Hopkins appears to be the favorite to defend its team championship.
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