There's talking the talk and walking the walk.
For Michaela Gazdich, it was a case of running the run.
The Valparaiso senior raised her personal bar and her marked improvement has been invaluable for the injury-plagued Vikings.
"We wouldn't be where we are at all if Michaela was running like last year," coach Boomer Nellessen said. "Everybody agreed Alison (Mundell) was our No. 1, but we didn't really know from there. Michaela's had to take a lot on her shoulders. She's kind of running on her own, taking the team until the reinforcements come. Last year, she was just wanting to stay in the top seven, so for her to be our No. 2 runner, it's pretty dramatic."
For three seasons, Gazdich ran varsity, competing in the state finals since he was a freshman. Not bad, but she and Nellessen both believed she could do more.
"I was just lazy," Gazdich said. "It's not like I didn't want it. I'm just a little more serious this year."
Gazdich hates track. She admits it. But in order to get the ball rolling for her senior cross country season, she ran in the spring. She carried her training over to the summer, putting in miles she had never logged before.
"We always talked about how she finished better, and that was a sign she wasn't doing a lot in the summer," Nellessen said. "She recommitted herself. She trained. She ate better. She took all the extra steps. You could tell she wanted to go out on a high note her senior year. We weren't starting at square one."
It was evident from the first practice, when Gazdich was striding up front with Mundell. In Valpo's first meet, she finished second to Mundell in 21:48. In the same meet last year, she timed 23:03.
"Practices were going good, but I still wondered how the meets would be," Gazdich said. "My first meets are never good. I was like, 'I can really do this.' It was exciting. From there, I could see the season being good."
It has been. In Tuesday's searing heat, Gazdich reached the line in 20:30.
"Everybody wants it. Not everybody wants to do what they need to do to get it," Nellessen said. "They don't understand what it takes to get there. Michaela understands the training side. It's been a real positive influence. She's not afraid to push past her comfort zone, but she also knows you need recovery."
The physical progress has been complemented by mental strides Gazdich has taken.
"I've got a clearer mind, less stress," she said. "People always said I could do it. I just had to have confidence in myself. I've finally seen it now. Belieiving I can do it has helped a lot. Before, I would kind of back off (in races), now I keep going. I've always wanted to run in college. Some people told me I couldn't do it. I want to prove them wrong."
Gazdich's all-business outlook meshes well with a main group still largely comprised of underclassmen.
"She's been a phenomenal leader," Nellessen said. "She's always been quiet, but she's got a lot more motivation. She's that 'speak softly and carry a big stick' type of athlete. She's no-nonsense about (running), and it's filtered through the whole team."
While Gazdich picks her words carefully, she senses she's a part of something bigger than herself, and wants to see it through to a happy ending.
"I have pretty high expectations," she said. "It's not that we weren't close in years past, but we're closer this year. We're like sisters."