TURIN — Flanked by her father, Gregg, her mother, Julia and her older sister Hali, Hannah Ielfield signed her national letter of intent to run cross country and track at the University of Mississippi on Thursday evening at a small ceremony in the South Lewis gymnasium.
Having visited Ole Miss last February, the decision ultimately came down to either attending Mississippi or Manhattan College, where her sister runs.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Hannah knew for sure.
“It was still a decision up until Oct. 31, which is when I officially was like, ‘OK, it’s time to decide,’” Ielfield said. “It was kind of between Ole Miss and Manhattan, those were the two tough decisions. When I made it though, I knew it was the right one.”
Not only was she a fan of Ole Miss’s campus in Oxford, she instantly felt a connection to the team and its mentality.
“The team was like, we are expected to go to nationals, and I just really wanted a team that would help me reach my goals,” Ielfield said. “If one girl isn’t running that well at practice, they will encourage that girl, they won’t be like ‘why aren’t you running faster?’ They will help each other out and that’s really the support I wanted.”
At the same time there was also a level of intensity and accountability that Ielfield was attracted to. In a way it reminded her of her time running for coach Jack Bernard at South Lewis.
“I know that if I want to be a better athlete, I need to go somewhere where the coaches are going to be committed,” Ielfield said. “That was one thing that I saw from them. I talk to the other girls and they said, our coach does not say ‘good job’ if you had a bad race. They’re not going to lie to you, they’re going to be like ‘OK, let’s fix something.’ That’s what I was most into.”
That desire for constructive criticism is part of why Ielfield had such a successful career at South Lewis. On top of her natural running talents, Bernard touted her tough mentality as one of her best qualities.
“You train them so that they’re tough when you get to certain situations, when it gets to sectionals and states and you know what you have,” Bernard said. “And that’s the part that you can’t replace, because the younger girls don’t have that yet.”
As a Falcon, Ielfield collected plenty of accolades. Having run varsity at South Lewis since the eighth grade, Ielfield has raced in multiple state championships and helped the Falcons earn a team state title in cross country in 2017.
But college running is obviously different, as is the lifestyle of being a college athlete.
“Definitely like the balance between college classes, your actual practice and just trying to fit all that stuff in,” Ielfield said. “Also eating healthy and making sure you get enough sleep.”
She’s not necessarily intimidated by Ole Miss’s long athletic history. To her, becoming a Rebel and running at a high Division 1 level can only help her become a better athlete. There will be some jitters though.
“The races will definitely scare me a little bit, the first race is obviously going to be intimidating because I’m a freshman going against seniors and that’s going to be the hardest part,” Ielfield said. “Other than that I think I’m going to be good and girls will help me along.”
Ielfield has been able to contact some of her new teammates and has a roommate lined up, a fellow freshman teammate from Texas.
She had to keep her decision to attend Ole Miss a secret for a while, mostly because Ielfield herself wasn’t entirely sure where she would be attending school, but once she came to a decision her current teammates were excited.
“They were definitely surprised, but they were all so happy and they support me so much,” Ielfield said. “And I am so thankful for them.”