As a freshman, Shreya Nalubola was barely on the radar for Centennial cross country coaches as a viable varsity option.
The ability was there, and so was the work ethic. Knowing she had the potential to be great, Nalubola decided it was time to start taking her training seriously. Following her sophomore year, a vast improvement was clearly visible, yet she still wasn't satisfied. Her lofty expectations led her to persue a state championship.
Thanks to a competitive drive that fuels her on and off the course, the results from Nalubola's junior season could fill a trophy case on its own.
"I got a lot more confident in my ability to run," she said of her transformation over the last three years. "That mental push was what really helped me do well in all my races."
In consistent fashion, Nalubola swept the season's three biggest races: the Howard County Championship (19:02.7), 3A East regional meet (19:03) and state championship (18:41.1). It was the best postseason for a Howard County runner since 2009, when Mt. Hebron senior Becky Yep accomplished a similar feat.
Because of her unflappable resolve, Nalubola has been named the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls cross country Runner of the Year.
"If you look at her body of work, it would be hard to deny her (such an honor)," said Eagles' coach Kevin McCoy. "She just had a ridiculously phenomenal year."
Against county runners, the junior's chances were never quite in danger. Still, such a dominant season would not have been possible without a little friendly county competition. For Nalubola, that extra push came from River Hill's Allison Krein and Reservoir's Karli Smiraglia (both first-team selections). Though the competition was always in fun, both talented runners maintained that Nalubola pushed them to run their best race.
Though it seemed like everyone in the county was always chasing her, Nalubola's fellow teammates were routinely close behind. Being the No. 1 runner on a team that never finished a placer outside the top-25 in any of the postseason meets is a strong accomplishment. The 2013 state champion Eagles boasted a very powerful roster full of all-county selections, and Nalubola was at the head of that class.
"Her driven dynamic and never being able to settle has definitely rubbed off on the other girls," McCoy said. "She's made my job easier by opening that up to everybody."
Her varsity team fielded just two seniors, so Nalubola often spent time working with the young roster, showing the underclassmen what a strong work ethic and an ability to contribute can achieve.
Off the course, Nalubola is just as tenacious, especially when it comes to school.
"She's just not OK with second-best if first place was attainable," McCoy added.
On Nov. 30, Nalubola traveled to North Carolina for the Nike Cross Country Regionals to try her hand on the national stage. Unfortunately, she was sick in the days leading up to the race and it hurt her performance.
After finishing 41st, seeing all the exciting uncharted territory was too enticing for a high-level competitor like Nalubola. She achieved her goal of winning a state championship in 2013, so next year, she is shooting for the stars. Though she said she was just thankful for the experience, and looks forward to running again next season in the event, her coach took it one step further. Knowing her personality and drive, McCoy said he expects her to do whatever it takes to get to nationals next year in Portland, Ore.
"Repeating again next year (in counties, regionals and states) is going to be great, but she's looking at it as a stepping stone to something bigger," he added. "She wants to climb that next mountain. She sees that she can be the absolute best, and she's going to go for it."
Also named to the all-county first team are:
Ally Driscoll, Centennial
Postseason highlights: Placed sixth at the county championship (20:26.9), eighth at the 3A East regional meet (20:39) and 12th at states (20:01.4).