Humble Elena Lancioni talks softly and carries a big kick.
The LaPorte senior is on the brink of Duneland Athletic Conference history this morning at Kesling Park, but you'd never hear that from her.
"I'm lucky to be where I am and fortunate to embrace all the opportunities I have," Lancioni said. "I'd like to be remembered as someone who didn't (bask) in her victories too much, who was thoughtful and cared about others."
She's got that part down. A top-notch student who's also active in school, Lancioni represents all that is good in athletics.
"She deserves everything she gets," coach John Dearing said. "It's real important for her to be a good person. She doesn't have great foot speed. She's not tall, but she's got a good set of lungs. Her work ethic is unbelievable. She's always been able to just go, go, go."
If Lancioni wins today, she'll become the first girl to garner three titles. She would also finish a third undefeated DAC season and be a five-time MVP (track and cross country), feats that have never been done.
"It's a pretty neat thing," Lancioni said. "I never thought about anything like that. I was kind of in awe of (Valpo's) Katelyn DeVries for a couple years. I think about all the girls I looked up to. They were role models I thought were really special. Now I'm like the Katelyn DeVries to somebody else. I feel like I'm not that special, that much older. You just treat others right, be nice to everyone, because you never know who looks up to you."
Lancioni is excited to run for the record books on her home course. In typical fashion, she's more excited about her team's chances to win its first DAC crown. Lancioni is running with an even greater purpose this year, knowing the Slicers could reach state.
"It's my mission to make state, to lead the team, to motivate everyone," she said. "That means the most to me. Knowing all the girls are working to make it as a team, it helps keep me motivated. We're all reaching for the same goal. I'm going to work hard because I know they're working hard."
LaPorte reached semistate last fall, finishing 10 points behind Portage for the last state berth, and is in good position to avoid the bubble this time. Lancioni went on to finish 16th in Terre Haute, continuing her progression up the ranks from 28th as a freshman and 21st in 2011.
"She's come a long way," Dearing said. "She came in pretty good, but lacked a lot of self confidence. She's so knowledgeable about what's going on, who she's running against, she put them on a pedestal. She thought they were better than her. It finally clicked this year that she's just as good as anybody out there. She totally believes she's one of the best in the state, so why not me?"
Not a middle school phenom, Lancioni didn't experience much success until eighth grade. Once she got a taste, she was hungry for more.
"I learned I enjoyed the sport. I just kept working hard and got a little better," she said. "It's something that means a lot to me, to do my best. One thing my coaches have told me through the years is to be confident in my abilities. I've changed my attitude. You have to believe you can do anything you want to. I tell myself before every race."
It's made a difference in big races this season, notably New Prairie.
"I've pushed myself a little harder to run with someone maybe I wouldn't have stuck with the whole race," Lancioni said. "You try new things, something great might happen."
Next year, Lancioni will likely run for a Division I school in the Midwest and study exercise science, leaving a new benchmark for her sport in the DAC and the region.
"I've gotten to meet so many great people. I used to not talk to people I didn't know. It's helped me break out of my shell," Lancioni said. "Running isn't just running. It's a sport that benefits you in all aspects, winning, losing, the battles. You work hard, it will benefit you later in life."