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Centennial's Nalubola repeats as Howard County girls cross country Runner of Year

Centennial's Shreya Nalubola earned top three finishes at the county, region and state championship meets for the second straight cross country season.
Centennial's Shreya Nalubola earned top three finishes at the county, region and state championship meets for the second straight cross country season.(Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

Whether she is tutoring kids, doing community service or running cross country, Centennial senior Shreya Nalubola is going to give it her all.

As shown by her 4.77 weighted GPA, she likes to push herself to the limits mentally. It's on the cross country course where she finds peace while pushing herself physically.

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It didn't always come easy to Nalubola, who said her four-year running journey has been "such a rollercoaster ride." As a freshman, she ran a 5k in 30 minutes, and almost started walking toward the end.

But just like anything else she does, she put in the time and work necessary to be the best. Now as a county champion, two-time 3A East regional champion and having the best time for any county runner at the last two state championship meets — including winning the 3A title last season — Nalubola leaves with nothing left to prove.

Because of that, she has been named the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls cross country Runner of the Year for the second straight season.

"I think it feels really good to be a senior and say, 'Wow I actually won a state championship in running,'" Nalubola said. "If you would have told me freshman year that I would become so good at running and it would become something I love so much, I don't think I would have believed you."

During her first year running, she wasn't necessarily a natural. But she decided if she was going to stick with it then she was going to train to be the best.

"Her freshman year ... she wasn't even on the official top seven varsity roster," said Centennial coach Kevin McCoy.

She saw significant improvement in her times and endurance after running over the summer between her freshman and sophomore year.

"When she came in as a sophomore, she surprised some people because most people didn't even know her name," McCoy said.

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Then, after being in the top tier of county runners as a sophomore, she decided to put in the miles and follow a training plan during the summer going into her junior year so she could take her times to an elite level.

"I think that's when I decided to push it as far as I could, and that's when I became a much better runner," she said.

Her hard work paid off for her junior season. She had one of the best years for any Howard County cross country runner as she won the county, region and state meets for a clean sweep of the postseason races.

She had to beat out some of the state's best runners, like Reservoir's Karli Smiraglia, who finished top-three in each of the postseason races, and River Hill's Allison Krein, who placed in the top-four of the same races, for all three of her wins.

"Last year, she was almost flawless," McCoy said.

This past season she knew she had a target on her back, and Oakland Mills junior Brit Lang would be her biggest competition.

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Nalubola relishes the opportunity to be pushed to her limits, and Lang, who won the 2A state meet as a freshman in 2012, was someone she knew would be right next to her at the end.

"It's always nice to have someone there that you can work off of and someone who pushes you, and you put pressure on yourself to say, 'OK, I'm going to stick with this person for as long as I can and see what happens at the end,'" Nalubola said. "I think having Brit there really helped me to push myself as hard as I could."

At the county meet, Nalubola lost her first postseason race in more than a year to Lang. Nalubola was disappointed, but she knew the loss would push her to race harder at the regional and state meets.

She improved on her county time to win the 3A East regional race in 19 minutes, 9 seconds, beating Reservoir's Kelsey Ponton, who ended up finishing fourth at the state meet, by 48 seconds.

With the state meet back at Hereford High School after a year at McDaniel College, Nalubola knew it would be a tough task to repeat as state champion.

She set a personal best time on the treacherous Hereford course, but it wasn't enough to beat two girls from Urbana.

"I think I did pretty well at states," she said. "My goal going in was to get in the top three, so getting third I was happy with it. After winning it the previous year, yeah it is kind of sad to not be that state champion, but it's been a great four years as a cross country runner and I've really enjoyed it and that's what really matters."

Although she didn't sweep the postseason meets like she did her junior season, Nalubola was excited about maintaining her endurance and times.

"I think it was a good year," she said. "I'm really happy with how things turned out."

"It was a stellar two years in a row," McCoy said. "She's just a stud athlete."

Her final race at states was bittersweet. It culminated a four-year career during which she developed a love for the sport that she plans to continue through college.

"It didn't fully hit me when I crossed the finish line (at states) that it would be the last race ever of high school cross country and the last 5k, because in college you don't run 5ks," she said. "So I think now looking back at maybe I could have savored it more during the race thinking about how this is my last chance ... I think I was focused more on getting through it and doing the best I could and putting this pressure on myself instead of enjoying the moment."

Nalubola used the sport as an escape from other things going on in her life, and she plans on continuing to race in college. She hopes it will be at an Ivy League school.

"I'm happy to be moving forward, and considering I will most likely be running in college, I'm excited to see what I can do there and I'm sure it will be a different cross country experience, but I'm really excited to see what it will be like," she said.

Also named to the first team are:

Carly AlbrightMarriotts Ridge, senior

Postseason highlights: Placed third at the county championship meet (19:41), third at the 2A South regional meet (19:04) and sixth at states (19:29).

Brit Lang Oakland Mills, junior

Postseason highlights: Won the county championship meet (19:05), placed second at the 2A South regional meet (18:43) and fifth at states (19:19.5).

Devin McIntyre Centennial, junior

Postseason highlights: Placed seventh at the county championship meet (20:18), third at the 3A East regional meet (20:00) and seventh at states (20:00).

Elizabeth Oldhouser River Hill, senior

Postseason highlights: Placed sixth at the county championship meet (20:00), fourth at the 3A East regional meet (20:06) and 10th at states (20:12.8).

Kelsey Ponton Reservoir, senior

Postseason highlights: Placed fifth at the county championship meet (19:59), second at the 3A East regional meet (19:57) and fourth at states (19:33.2).

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Gabby RaynerHoward, senior

Postseason highlights: Placed fourth at the county championship meet (19:56), won the 4A North regional meet (18:39.84) and finished eighth at states (19:37.7).

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