Typically when a freshman bursts onto the scene in his or her sport, there is an element of surprise. A collective curiosity emanates from the crowd.
But Hannah Larios is no ordinary freshman. When the first-year Owen High School cross country runner crossed the finish line in the Hyder-McMahill Invitational Sept. 2 at Montreat College, most of the crowd recognized her. And many weren't surprised to see her win.
Hosted annually by Montreat College since 2010, the Hyder-McMahill Invitational kicks off the season for the Cavaliers and is among the first events of the cross country season for Owen. Prior to last year it was held twice a year, but the race was consolidated into one event for high school and college teams in 2016.
It's named in honor of Don McMahill and Joe Hyder, both of who have deep roots in the local running community. The pair are responsible for the construction and upkeep of the In The Oaks trails which run throughout Montreat's Black Mountain campus and serve as the college's cross country course.
More than 120 girls from 12 high schools ran the 5K trail race. Larios beat them all. Her time of 20:44.53 was better than all but one of the 43 college women who ran as well. Hyder, entering his 32nd season as the head coach of the Owen cross country team, knew he was getting a special runner in Larios.
"She works hard," he said. "She's been putting in 30- to 35-mile weeks for at least the last two months."
Actually Larios, whose father Jose is the athletic director and former track and field coach for Montreat College, has been putting in those kinds of weeks for a few months, stepping up her training regimen after her Owen Middle School career was cut short at the beginning of the season when she had her appendix removed. She returned in time to finish third in the conference meet.
"I've put in 30-mile weeks almost every week," she said. "I've been getting a lot stronger, and just from the training I felt like I was going to do well this season."
Her time in the Hyder-McMahill Invitational was the second-fastest time of any freshman in the program's history, Hyder said.
"It's faster than Hannah Feinsilber did as a freshman, faster than Lindsey Banks did as a freshman," he said. "Only Mary Frith, the all-time school record holder, period, has run faster as a freshman. You get into the same ballpark as those names and you're doing really well as a freshman."
Winning the race felt great, Larios said.
"It was extra special since it was one of my first races," she said.
The day was also special for Jose Larios, who not only witnessed Hannah's performance but also got a chance to see Montreat's men's team come out on top as well.
"This race kicks off our season at Montreat and to see our men's team come out on top in front of the home fans, faculty, staff and family is really a testament to the work coach (Jason) Lewkowicz and coach (Britten) Olinger have put in with the team," Larios said. "It's a win-win-win from my perspective to get to watch my daughter win her first high school race."
The day was even more memorable because of the Invitational itself, he said.
"In 2010 we honored these guys (Don McMahill and Joe Hyder) by naming the race after them because we realized they were so special to a lot of people who may not even know them, considering all of the people who use those trails," Jose Larios said. "They've worked on those trails for decades, and they continue to because of their love for the trails, the community and the sport."
Sept. 2 was a big day for the Larios family, as was Aug. 26, the day Hannah Larios made her high school debut in Hendersonville. She placed 15th in the WNC Cross Country Carnival with a time of 20:56.50.
"That was a telltale sign that all the work she did over the summer, the commitment, making sure she was up early in the morning getting runs in, payed off," her father said.
Hannah's goal entering the season was to break the 20-minute mark, she said. "I'm close, but I'm not super close," she said. "But we haven't run on any super-flat courses yet either."
Not only was the course for the Hyder-McMahill Invitational a little hilly. It was also a little muddy. "It's not what I would call a lightning-fast course," Hyder said.
"Her times will improve, and once we get into some of these courses that are flatter, her time will come down, possibly below 20 (minutes)," he said.