Paige Olson

Paige Olson, a tennis star and academic standout at Century High School, poses for a portrait on court. (Photo By Noah Scialom / June 24, 2012)

Domination is a foreign concept in the modern-day world of sports. Champions rarely repeat, and the playing field seems more level than ever.

There are two exceptions to this rule in Carroll County.

Paige Olson began and ended her Century tennis career as a champion, and Hannah Oneda of Winters Mill simply ran away from the competition in cross country and track and field.

Their exceptional athletic achievements, standout performances in the classroom, and a willingness to serve their school and community have earned Olson and Oneda the Carroll Eagle's Spring Student-Athlete Award.

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Love-ing tennis

By the time she enrolled at Century High School in fall 2008, Paige Olson already was a seasoned tennis player. Her experience showed in spring 2009, when the Knights' freshman won the county singles' championship.

But there was something missing for Olson. She could have been the first four-time county champion, but the Sykesville resident followed a different path.

Olson continued her studies at Century, but left the school's tennis team to compete in sanctioned U.S. Tennis Association tournaments.

"I wasn't getting the competition that I needed in the county," said Olson, explaining her decision to forego two years of high school play. "Playing against someone better helps you get better, and USTA helped me. My ground strokes were stronger, and my serve was a lot better.

"Plus, a few years ago, my confidence was not good at all. I'd be really hard on myself if I lost or didn't play well. But I learned that against the better players, if I played my hardest I couldn't get down on myself. ... I was mentally stronger when I came back this year."

After two years of USTA play, Olson returned to the Century team this spring. To say she was welcomed back with open arms is an understatement.

"She was very inspirational, and her return gave us a boost in both team morale and level of play," said Amber Geiger, the girls' tennis coach at Century. "She was like a peer mentor to the other girls. Paige would see different things in their games, and without me even noticing she would help them. I think she influenced a lot of our younger players to do more."

Olson was excited to be back with her Knight teammates.

"I could not wait to get back," she said with a smile. "This year was a lot more fun than my freshman year. I loved watching my teammates play after I was done. I loved cheering for my team, which was something I couldn't do at USTA. I felt like the team was so close this year, and my teammates were always so supportive of me. "

The competition wasn't so happy.

The Century senior dominated opponents like no player in county history. In her 16 regular-season matches, Olson won 180 of 186 games. She won every match in straight sets, and only once did an opponent win more than three games in an entire match.

To her chagrin, Olson didn't get to play defending county and state champion Taylor Neudecker of North Carroll.

"That was a big surprise when she didn't come back," Olson said. "I thought she'd want to defend her state title. I was a little disappointed."

After taking the District VII regional title in straight sets, Olson entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. Straight-set wins over North Caroline's Madison Parks and Cierra Plummer of Surrattsville moved Olson into a state semifinal matchup with Anna Rozenburg of Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

"I'd wanted (to win states) forever," said Olson, who started playing tennis at age 8 and her first tournament when she was 10. "My first match wasn't easy, but I was playing well and kind of breezed through that one. My second match was against someone I'd played against and lost to in USTA, and I knew going out that I'd have to put all my energy and focus into it. Once I won, it was pretty much the best feeling ever.