WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- There aren't too many first years who transition from the high school sports scene to the collegiate athletic landscape and make an immediate impact.
Hannah Cole did it thrice over.
Cole hit the Williams College campus running, literally, helping the Eph women's cross country team to a second-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Division III championship meet in November. She placed 29th overall, earning All-America honors.
From there, Cole switched running shoes for skis, taking to the slopes for the Ephs' Nordic team. She qualified for the NCAA meet in Utah and placed 32nd and 33rd in her two races on the sport's highest intercollegiate stage.
Cole accomplished all of this while adjusting to the academic rigor of Williams testing herself every day.
"Looking back, it was a great first year," Cole said. "It definitely wasn't a smooth road at all times, and there are plenty of things to work on/improve for next season, but overall I'm really happy with the year. I definitely feel privileged to have been a part of all three teams, surrounded by incredible teammates and fantastic coaching staffs."
Cole was a four-time All-Greater Rochester cross country selection for Honeoye Falls-Lima Regional (New York) High School, winning two sectional championships (2011, '12) in the sport and also earning the 800-meter crown as a sophomore competing in track. She won a sectional title in Nordic skiing her senior year just three years after trading in her ice hockey skates for skis.
Cole began her collegiate career by placing 16th overall in the Purple Valley Classic. She became a consistent member of the Ephs "scoring" five until the NESCAC championships, when she placed eighth amongst Ephs. Cole quickly rebounded to place eighth overall at the NCAA Regional qualifier in Maine, and rode that momentum to her 29th-place finish at the national meet.
"Hannah is wise beyond her years in terms of managing her training load, with an ability to mesh ski and running components both during summer buildup and in-season for cross country running, while still doing some Nordic, and during the winter ski season adding in some runs to keep those muscles in form," said Peter Farwell, the Ephs' head coach of cross country who also coaches the distance runners on the track & field team. "In all three seasons she showed an uncanny knack of knowing when to 'turn it on' and when to train and race through as a building process. She listens to coaches very well, and adds her own ideas and consults in the best way, creating a solid game plan that she then follows through to the letter. She is a natural leader by example, and already in just her first year can offer her experience and knowledge to the team when called for."
"She is pulling off a very difficult 'triple' by doing these three endurance sports in succession and we, all of her coaches, admire and prize her."
In adddition to her success on the trails during the cross country season, Cole began excelling in the classroom, as well, earning All-Academic honors from the United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association. Individual honorees needed a cumulative GPA or 3.30 or greater and to have finished among the top 25 percent of finishers at their respective regional championships.
"Although it was definitely a big adjustment academically, in terms of workload and course difficulty, having had the experience as a three-sport athlete in high school, I did my very best to keep myself on a similar schedule of working hours, practice and sleep," Cole said. "If anything, the continuity and familiarity of the structure, helped to keep me on track and productive with my time outside of practice and class hours. I would say the hardest part was figuring out the right amount of everything, time spent doing work, sleeping, spending time with friends, etc., given my own academic expectations. It took time to find that balance, and it is something I continue to work on, but having a large support network among teammates, friends, entry mates and faculty helped to smooth that process."
Cole's commitment to academics was evident to her coaches from the get-go. Her approach in the classroom often tranfers into her athletic endeavors.
"Hannah is extremely committed to balancing athletics and academics at Williams," Nordic skiing head coach Jason Lemeiux said. "Her ability to adapt goals and training based on results, reality and environmental factors outside of her control shows an athletic maturity that is very rare in a first-year student. Hannah trains hard, but she is also very smart with her training and asks the questions needed to understand what she is doing. She looks for ways to analyze the training, racing and resting on a continuous basis and is always striving to improve."
Like many first years, Cole has not declared a major, but said she is leaning toward chemistry or math. She spent her first year at Williams trying out a range of classes, from religion to French to economics, but found her interest really piqued when enjoying a chemisty or math course.
"The French course I took in the fall was probably the most challenging for me," Cole noted. "I had promised myself that I would give it a try at the collegiate level, despite coming from a weaker high school language program. The mix of it being my first semester at Williams, the greater intensity of the program comparatively and my own lack of confidence in the subject, made it especially difficult. On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed organic chemistry which I took in the spring. Without a doubt it was challenging, but there was plenty of opportunities for help in office hours or collaboration with classmates, which I was extremely thankful for."
Growing up in Canada and then Honeoye Falls, as well as several other moves, gave Cole the opportunity to take part in all kinds of different sports. She said that once she started high school, she made the decision to stop playing soccer after nine years, so she could run competitively during the fall. She continued to play hockey for much of that year, but ultimately decided she was overcommitted and switched to Nordic skiing because it was a popular winter sport for most of the runners at HF-L and it was coached by the running coach.
Cole reflected on the characteristics, mental and physical, the three sports (cross country running, Nordic skiing and track) have in common that have helped her compete at a high level year round.
"There are many things that the three sports share," she noted. "Physically, they require many of the same muscles, and you definitely can't beat being well-developed aerobically in all three. Distance training, interval sessions and any strength work are common among the three, and work to develop/stress me in similar ways, but just may differ on whether they be carried out on foot, roller ski or ski.
"Running is really a universal way to stay in shape, so it allows me to compete and get ready for the upcoming ski season simultaneously, while skiing and roller skiing acts either as non-impact ways to cross train during running season, or training in ski season. Mentally, the sports are remarkably the same. All three require a lot of mental toughness, focus and willingness to hurt for awhile. The burning in your muscles or lungs doesn't change whether you're running through the woods, skiing or trying to hold on through the last lap of the track, so for all three it really just ends up being a battle against yourself."
Never one to rest on her laurels, Cole has already started to think about what she would like to accomplish during the rest of her Williams career.
"I hope to use all that I learned from these past three seasons, especially in terms of transitioning from one to the other, to keep moving forward next year," she said. "Hopefully by continuing to build volume and focusing on technique work, I'll be able improve upon last year's results, and in the future would like to work toward a top-10 result at NCAAs for cross country and Nordic, and a top-three in track. I'd love to see our cross country team challenge the reigning champions, Johns Hopkins, this fall, to send a full team of three girls to NCAAs in the Nordic season, and be back on the track with a teammate competing in the NCAA steeplechase race. Additionally, a big part of my experience here at Williams has been the fantastic leadership present among all three teams. This is something that I can only hope to emulate in the years to come, as I work to enjoy and make the most of the opportunities that Williams has to offer."