Hannah Waller is fairly new to track, but it hasn't taken her long to make waves on the national level. With her wins in the 55 (6.87) and 300 (38.50) last weekend at the 6A girls state championships at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, the South Lakes sophomore broke the 757's stranglehold on the girls' sprint titles from this decade, and she is primed to stencil her name all over the Virginia state record books. Still, she came to running from another discipline.
"I used to be a swimmer," said the Seahawk, who specialized in the freestyle and breaststroke as a member of her local YMCA swim team. "But my mother always thought I was fast."
It turned out that Mother knew best. "As a sixth grader, she took me to an all-comers meet in Centreville, and I made it to the finals (in my event). She thought I should continue, so I joined the Ashburn Elite track team," added Waller.
To the surprise of her track friends, Waller didn't immediately sign up for indoor track during her freshman year at the Reston school. "At one of the meets, I ran across a coach named Lee Watts who had run for Georgetown (University). He wanted to coach me, so I trained with him in Bethesda (MD), and work on my technical form."
The specialized work must have helped. After one invitational in outdoor season, Waller was chosen as one of seven South Lakes runners to travel across the country to compete at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California.
"Our coach (Scott Raczko) takes us there for the competition," said Waller, who ran region qualifying marks of 12.41 in the 100 and 25.53 in the 200 at Arcadia, while running a 200 leg on South Lakes' school-record sprint medley (4:06.84).
The progress continued and the then-freshman won the 6A North region meet with an 11.99 in the 100, tying the mark of Hayfield's Murielle Ahoure. She also captured the 200 in 24.74.
After placing third in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at 6A outdoor states, Waller started to get an idea about her ability. But it was only in the following week, after racing at Nationals, that the possibility of her potential began to sink in.
Coach sat me down and we went over our whole season," said Waller. "We went over every race, and it motivated me and gave me inspiration. After talking with (Raczko), I knew that I could get to new heights."
Now in her first indoor season, Waller has yet to taste defeat in her primary events, as she is undefeated in both the 55 and 300. However, she did hit a wall toward the end of January.
Jokingly, she recalls, "I knew that I could consistently run 6.99 (in the 55)," an opinion supported by the fact that she hit the mark three times over a two-week period, along with a single 6.98. Thinking ahead to the state meet, she also noticed that "Shadajah (Ballard of Western Branch) was just under 7."
After region wins (6.99 in the 55, 39.43 in the 300), Waller realized that she would need a new wrinkle in her training to achieve the final boost to winning two state championships. Coach Raczko set a plan into motion.
"We drilled on starts, and coming out of the blocks," said Waller, who also spent extra sessions working on her "drive phase". "I worked on the movement of my arms and my frequency (of landing)." For the 300, we talked about going after the last 50 (meters) off the turn. Coach likes to call it "blazing." My goal was to make sure that I wasn't losing form, to keep my arms going."
The extra work paid off as Waller stunned her competition with a marginal win in the 55, a race that had not seen a non-757 (area code) athlete win the event since the state meet moved to the Booplex in 2009. Asked if breaking the streak motivated her, Waller admitted, "I didn't know about it until he (Nolan Jez of Milestat) mentioned it in the (video) interview." Her time of 6.87 kept Waller ranked at #3 in the U.S., and beat Ballard, her fiercest competitor, by a whole tenth of a second.
The 300 also went according to plan, as Waller drove off the last turn to win the race and finish in a new PR of 38.50, a quarter-second improvement.
Next up - New Balance Nationals, where Waller will run the 60 and 200 at the Ocean Breeze complex in Staten Island.
"I like it," said Waller talking of the track. I ran there at a youth meet, and then again last year. It's really bouncy, plus it's a banked track. We ran a 1:43 in the 4x200 and my split was 23.8, so I'm hoping to be somewhere around there (at Nationals).
She hasn't had much time to think about outdoor season, or even a potential college at this point of her career. Yet, surprisingly, for a 10th grader, Waller has a laser-like focus on her career venture.
"I want to get into marketing," said Waller, again sighting her mother's wisdom as a guiding factor. "She's an entrepreneur, a promoter, and she has motivated and guided me in that way."
Perhaps she will gain a few lessons from those who aim to move her running career to greater levels.