A year ago, Alison Mundell was a church-mouse quiet freshman anxiously awaiting her first race on a senior-driven Valparaiso roster.
Much has changed in 12 months.
Returning from a team that placed third at state, Mundell is one of the few known commodities on a Vikings squad where she now qualifies as a veteran, albeit at the age of 15.
Heck, she's even talking a little more.
"She's still very shy, but she's gotten much more outgoing," new Valpo head coach Boomer Nellessen said. "She's not one for tons of strategy words. That's just not her style. She kind of leads by example, which for young girls is probably the best way. They see the type of work she does. She has a great role model for them."
Role model, leader, front runner. They're all terms that can be burdensome to bear, especially with a team like Valpo and someone of Mundell's youth. Yet there's a sense she's more comfortable in her surroundings, even if she is carrying expectations of becoming the next great Vikings distance runner.
"Having a year under my belt, I know what's expected, how it's going to be," Mundell said. "I have more experience. I don't have to ask for as much help. I'm not asking everybody, 'What do I do?' I know where (the freshmen) are coming from because I was in that position a short time ago."
Mundell followed Katelyn DeVries each step of the tournament trail until state, where she finished fourth on the team and 83rd overall.
"I think she was just tired at the end of last year, which is to be expected as a freshman," Nellessen said. "She's in a much better place this year. I think she's in such better shape, physically and mentally. We've had some good talks about last year, about being more honest with herself and us as coaches as far as how she's feeling, what she's doing. She understands everything so much more."
Suffice it to say, the state finish didn't sit well with Mundell, who looks to compete consistently with LaPorte's Elena Lancioni at the front of the area pack. To do so, she'll have to set her own pace, no longer having the benefit of tracking DeVries.
"It'll be harder not having Katelyn," Mundell said.
Short of Mundell developing a closing kick, Nellessen believes she can wear runners down with her ability to sustain a faster pace. Training with new assistant coach Lauren Hardesty will certainly aid in that endeavor.
"Alison's gift isn't necessarily speed. It's being able to hold a high intensity non-stop for miles," Nellessen said. "She's learning she can't necessarily just go out and run three miles. There's a lot more strategy, really figuring where to sit at, when to go, how to do it. We've adjusted her training to better utilize them the whole course, not just parts of it, and she's been open to the changes we've given her."
Bottom line, Mundell just loves to run.
"That's her strength," Nellessen said. "Sometimes, we still have to hold her back. We could tell her to go out and run seven miles at this pace and that would be her dream run. It's refreshing to see someone that young want to do that."
It could lead to a successful career in college, where the longer distances seem to suit her talents. That's a long way off for a kid who doesn't even drive yet.
"I just want to improve with the team and do a good job of keeping the Valpo tradition going," she said.