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The cross country team took 4th place at the 2007 MSHSAA State Championships. Jackie Williams placed 23rd earning All-State Honors for the 3rd time in her career. Freshmen Asabe O'Neill and Taylor Hynes placed 26th and 27th, just missing All-State Honors.



Posted on Thu, Sep. 20, 2007 10:15 PM

Sisters in same sport are relative opposites


The Kansas City Star


Etagegn and Asabe O’Neill share a lot in common. After all, they’re sisters.


They both were born in Ethiopia. They quote the same movie lines. Read the same fashion magazines. Order the same carry-out at Nigat Restaurant on Broadway. They text like addicts — but thankfully their parents have found an unlimited cell phone plan. And, both sisters share a talent for running.


But that’s where the similarities end.


Etagegn is 17 years old and attends Bishop Miege High School in Kansas. Her 14-year-old sister, Asabe, chose Notre Dame de Sion in Missouri.

Etagegn wears comfortable sweats before cross-country practice. Asabe wears bright bows in her curly hair during practice. Etagegn has a Bob Marley poster and Ronaldo soccer jersey hanging on her bedroom wall. Asabe’s room looks like it’s been touched by the pink fairy. Etagegn would love to chitchat with Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. Asabe would give her favorite Banana Republic blouse to meet Akon and Tyra Banks.


They’re different and, now, they’re rivals.


Etagegn and Asabe will both race at the KC Metro Cross Country Championships on Saturday morning at Raymore-Peculiar Middle School. Etagegn is the lead runner for Miege. Asabe is the surprising Sion freshman in her first true varsity meet.


Since they attend separate schools divided by the state line, this will be the only time the sisters will meet as opponents during their high school career. Naturally, this sibling rivalry causes different reactions.


Asabe said she isn’t worried about Saturday’s race. Etagegn, on the other hand, can’t wait.


“I like to be in the front pack. If Asabe can hang up there, I’ll talk to her. I’ll (help) her push me, encourage her,” Etagegn said before smiling devilishly, “then I’ll blow her off. See ya at home!”


Etagegn hasn’t finished lower than sixth place this season and she has run the KC Metro course before. She may break out ahead of Asabe, but there was a time when the sisters were inseparable.


Both girls, who are not biological sisters, lived in the same orphanage in Addis Ababa. Etagegn remembers the outdoor markets and and playing double dutch. Asabe, who was only 5, only remembers the long plane ride to America before they were adopted in 1999 by Steve and Karen O’Neill.


Their new home was blanketed by snow, and it was so cold in Kansas City the girls thought they had moved into a refrigerator. Everything was so new, so different, especially the language. Communicating was hard, so they mostly talked to each other. They shared jokes and stories in Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.


“Their security blanket was each other,” Steve O’Neill said.


As the girls grew up, their own identities and personalities became evident. Etagegn was the athlete, enjoying soccer and running, and she developed a talent for art and photography. Asabe was the Cosmopolitan model-in-training who also competed in some sports, but much rather enjoyed being around her girlfriends. Then last year, the sisters further separated when Etagegn chose Miege and Asabe fell in love with all-girls Sion and enrolled the following school year.


“I like (being in) two different schools,” Asabe said. “It makes us closer in a way, so we’re not sick of each other.”


When Etagegn signed up for cross country this season, she did so with the goal to run at state. Asabe only really came out because Mom told her she was running.


“I didn’t even know Asabe ran,” said Katherine Williams, a family friend. “She’s more like the girly-girl. I think she played tennis (once) and I don’t even think she liked tennis.”


Initially, Asabe didn’t like the early morning workouts and she invoked the inalienable right of every teenage girl to complain. But she proved to Sion coach Reynold Middleton that there’s more to her than bright nail polish and designer purses.


“(At a meet) in Joplin last Saturday, she and other freshmen watched the start of the college race … she looked at me with just the look of terror and said, ‘I can’t do that, I’m not going to do that,’ ” Middleton recalled. “But by race time she was ready to go and put that out of her mind. When it’s crunch time, she’s going to be there. She may not act like it ahead of time, but when we need her she’ll be there for us.”


Asabe finished 34th overall among the 400-plus runners and broke the 20-minute plateau. That same Saturday, Etagegn ran a 4-kilometer race at Swope Park and placed fourth.


“She has a drive,” Miege coach Alan Thomas said. “It’s what you want to see in a runner.”


They don’t have conversations in Amharic anymore or hang out like they used to. But when given the chance, the sisters meet up at Loose Park.


“We go and sometimes we just run around, sometimes we take long walks,” Etagegn said. “It’s our bond. Our sister bond.”