Whether it's the intense coaching, the shift to running longer distances or the opportunity to concentrate on fewer sports, Nora Saunders is hoping to reach her potential at Lamar University.
The 19-year-old Saunders recently signed a national letter of intent to attend the Division I, Southland Conference school in Beaumont, Tex., and compete on a partial scholarship in both cross-country and track and field.
"I love cross-country more -- that's where I've had my best results. But I want to succeed at both," said Saunders, who recently completed Grade 12 at Sir James Dunn. "I was impressed the school made contact with me and I'm really excited about going there."
Leaning towards a chemical engineering major, Saunders will focus both on improving her track results and on running longer distances.
A 3,000-metre runner here, Saunders will run the 5-kilometre and 10k events in university.
She was second in the senior girls' 3,000m this year at both the city and Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) meets.
A year ago, at the same distance, Saunders placed third in the city and sixth against Northern Ontario competition.
Having discussed things with her SJD track coach, Lorri Purnis, Saunders said the two agree she'll reach her potential in the longer distances.
Her good friend, former SJD runner Rhiannon Johns, recently completed her first year as a scholarship runner at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"She's running longer distances, she broke some freshman records this year and she really loves it at school," Saunders said of Johns. "I'm excited for her and I'm hoping I have the same kind of success."
While admitting her times weren't always outstanding, Saunders noted how she also competed in swimming, skiing and soccer.
Concentrating on cross-country and track exclusively, she hopes, will allow her to blossom.
"I want to personally see how far I can go," she said.
Saunders finished second in the senior girls 5k at the last two city cross-country championships. She ran as a senior for three straight years, placing fourth in the city in 2006.
For five consecutive years, she qualified for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) cross-country championships.
Saunders also spoke of how Lamar's long-distance coach, Jake Stewart, wasn't just interested in recruiting runners with the very best times.
"I was surprised by the track scholarship. But he (Stewart) said he was looking for an athlete who was competitive, a well-rounded athlete who hadn't focused exclusively on running," Saunders said. "He wanted runners with potential and he was looking for kids from Canada."
While she looked at several Canadian schools and was contacted by, and visited, Northern Michigan University in Marquette and Augusta State University in Augusta, Ga., Saunders determined Lamar University would be the perfect fit.
"I'm really excited and I can't wait to get started," she said.