UNION — For three years, Alexandra Santora has been Daniel Boone's foremost track and field standout, flying across the hurdles, excelling in the long jump, triple jump and sprints.
When she added cross country a couple of years ago it was strictly to stay in shape for track. But Santora instantly became a standout in cross country too, which for a born sprinter isn't easy to do.
Somewhere along the line the Rider University coaches started contacting and pursing Santora — for track and field. Then they watched her run a cross country race and instantly saw a lot of distance potential in her.
After some soul searching, she took the Rider coaches' advice and will change course after her final high spring track season at Boone.
Santora will continue her athletic and academic career at Division I Rider University in Lawrence, N.J., just south of Princeton, running cross country and distance for the Broncs.
"I hadn't actually heard of Rider until they started recruiting me,' Santora said. "They had sent me letters, I was kind of interested and so I replied. Then the coach contacted me. I went up for a general visit to take a tour of the campus and meet the coaches.
"It was the first time I went there and had a feeling that's where I was going to end up. It is just such a pretty campus, not too far from home. Everything kind of seemed what I wanted it to be.
"I'm really excited. Looking back to my freshman year, I would have never thought in a million years I would be competing Division I.'
She plans to major in biology.
Santora also checked out Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and Lafayette.
"I loved them all,' she said. "But, honestly, the biggest thing was the coaches. I felt a connection with the Rider coaches that I didn't really feel with the other coaches. Right there I knew that's where I needed to be.'
Bob Hamer is the Broncs head coach, with assistant coach Brett Harvey doing most of the recruiting.
"Their team is doing well,' Santora said. "They have a smaller team, but in their conference they have been very successful. That was definitely important to me. I didn't want to go to a team so competitive in the Division I level that I wouldn't be able to make an impact on the team. But I want to be on a team that is competitive within its conference so I can help us doing well in the conference.'
Santora started running track in middle school.
"And I loved it so much,' she said. "Then I ended up also running cross country in high school. Up until this year, I really did cross country for fun and to kind of stay in shape for the track season because I'm a sprinter, run the 300-meter hurdles and the 400 meters and felt cross country would help me with that. Then this year, I just really fell in love with cross country.
"Funny thing is, Rider actually first recruited me as a triple jumper and to run the 400-meter hurdles. Then the coaches came out and watched me run cross country a couple of times this season, then contacted me and told me they think I have more potential as a distance runner.
"I had considered it as an option because my cross country coach (Boone cross country coach Russell Keith) has always told me that he thinks, based on my body type, I could be more successful as a distance runner than a sprinter. So I've always considered there might come a day when a college coach wanted me to run distance instead. So when they told me that's what they wanted me to do, I kind of just agreed to it. But then when I thought about it, it made me a little bit upset.
"It was really hard. When they first told me that they wanted me to run cross country I was kind of indifferent about it just because I've always been in love with hurdles and hurdling. The 300 hurdles is my favorite event. I'm excited I'm still going to be running the hurdles this season.'
She has come around to embrace the Rider coaches' belief that she can be more successful in cross country and distance at the college level. They have also told her they want to groom her for the steeplechase and she loves that idea.
"They said it's very rare to find a good distance runner who is athletic enough for hurdles and jumps as well and think that would be a good combination to be successful in steeplechase,' Santora said. "So that's something we're looking into. And I'm really excited.'
And with her outstanding high school career in the 300 hurdles she could easily become a standout in it.
She has certainly made her mark at Boone in both track and cross country.
In the 300 hurdles, Santora holds the school record holder with a personal record 46.04, and placed ninth in District III-Class AAA last year. She was the Berks champion in the event in 2012 and has been selected to the All-Berks team in 2012 and 2013. She has recorded personal bests of 16-11 in the long jump, 35-3 in the triple jump and 1:01 in the 400 meters.
Santora was equally outstanding in cross country as a two-time PIAA qualifier, finishing 84th in Hershey in the fall.
She credits second-year Blazers coach Russell Keith for her new-found love for cross country and her success.
"Rusty definitely turned our program around,' she said. "It had always been a decent team, but then he came, pushed us into practicing over summer. He was really good at recruiting girls to the team, talking to younger girls to try and get them to run in high school. And the last two years have been really successful for us.
"He coached at Tulpehocken for 12 years before that and brought their team from not really having one to becoming state runner-up. Their team was amazing. He left there, took a couple years off, and then came to Boone.'
Keith is full of praise for Santora as a person and as an athlete.
"Not only is Alex an awesome all-around athlete, she is one of the top students in the senior class,' Keith said.
"As a cross country runner, she started out as a freshman runner that was often injured and not varsity caliber. Each season Alex's work ethic, dedication, and desire improved and transformed her into a Division 1 caliber runner. It would be difficult to find someone that is more dedicated and works harder than Alex. She is a natural leader, a great role model for our younger runners. She even drove some of our younger runners to and from practices throughout the summer.
"It is rare to find a high school athlete that follows the sport and is a fan. Alex is that person. She is well aware of the top high school kids along with the top runners in our country, is truly in love with the sports of cross country and track. And she is a gamer, always having her best races in the biggest meets.
"I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to coach Alex. She is a great kid and I'm very proud of her. I can't thank her enough for what she has done for our program. She is one of the best athletes ever at Daniel Boone.'
And Keith sees Rider as the perfect fit for Santora.
"Alex will excel there,' Keith said. "She will have the opportunity there to be a year-round distance runner as they recruited her for cross country, but also to run the steeplechase in track. She will have the opportunity to race events like the 800, 1,500, and 3,000 to help her steeplechase career. With her distance, speed, and hurdle background, the steeplechase is a perfect fit for her. I'm really excited to see what she can accomplish at the next level.'
So is Santora.
But with spring just around the corner, she is looking forward to doing it her old way one last time.
"I'm excited about it, can't wait,' she said. "I'll always love the hurdles and I want to go out with a bang.'
Follow Rosemarie Ross on Twitter @RoseRoss31