Share story

Hannah Cunliffe has a lot to smile about these days.

Take this week.

When Cunliffe steps onto the Mount Tahoma High track on Thursday night for Federal Way’s preliminary heat in the 4×200-meter relay, she’ll realize a dream years in the making.

For the first time in her life, Cunliffe will compete at Star Track — the 4A girls state meet. She owns the state’s fastest times in both the 100 (:11.40) and 200 meters (:24.29).

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“When I set my mind to something and work for it, I usually get it,” Cunliffe said.

That it would take one of Washington’s best sprinters until her senior year to even get a shot at a state title might seem impossible. But Cunliffe’s road to this moment has proved to be a strange and winding odyssey.

A year ago, Cunliffe sat in the stands at Mount Tahoma and watched as her Eagle teammates upset Curtis to win the team title. She was forced to simply watch after the WIAA denied her transfer appeal. The 2013 season was her first at Federal Way after turning out — briefly — for the team at Decatur in 2012 when she was being home-schooled.

The appeal hearing didn’t happen until this time last year.

“Maybe it was for the best,” said Cunliffe, who chose Oklahoma for her college career over Oregon, Texas, Arizona State and Florida State.

There was also an incident at Decatur when Cunliffe was a sophomore. During a practice, she and another teammate got into an altercation after Cunliffe felt she was kicked on purpose.

That moment, and a few others, Cunliffe said, caused her to quit early in the season.

“She had the reputation of being a bad girl, being defiant,” Federal Way coach Quinn Gillis said. “She’s never shown a bit of defiance here. I have no idea where the bad rep came from.”

Though she continued to succeed on a national and international level with her club team, there were still a few “bumps” in the road, Cunliffe admits.

“From looking at her in the ninth and 10th grades at Decatur, we never really saw her,” Gillis said. “She was always flying here, flying there. But once she’s gotten here, she’s stepped up. She’s one of our captains.”

Finally this week, she will try to score points in the relay, along with the 100 and 200 meters, to help Federal Way repeat as champion.

“One of my main things, I’ve always wanted to compete on a relay team and win a state title,” Cunliffe said. “My teammates and I are shooting for the relay state record, for sure. It’s something we’ve talked about for about two months now.”

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.