ST. JOHN — There’s no mistaking Megan Zajac is the captain of Lake Central’s cross country team.

Whether she’s encouraging a teammate, trying to inspire them, or telling someone to pick up the pace, the talented junior is demonstrating leadership.

“She does take control of things,” Lake Central coach Ann Downey said. “She’ll come to practice and organize things and get kids going. There’s always some stragglers, and she’ll be like: ‘Come on, girls, let’s get moving.’”

It seems like the hard working Zajac is always striving to not only help herself, but her teammates, reach new heights.

On Tuesday, Zajac and the Indians seek a 10th-straight sectional title when they compete in the Gavit Sectional.

“I would definitely like to win the (individual) sectional and team title and have all our girls finish in the top 10, because I think we can definitely do that,” said Zajac, who placed third a year ago.

“I’m definitely excited for it, because we’re not running the Gavit course I’m used to. I guess we’re running a different course this year, because they’ve switched it.”

Regardless of what course she’s running — her favorite is New Prairie — Zajac should do well.

She grew tremendously during a productive summer, which carried over to the fall and should translate to a fruitful postseason.

Lake Central finished second to LaPorte in the Duneland Athletic Conference with a 6-1 record.

“She really put the time in,” Downey said. “I think that’s when her leadership developed more. By putting all that time in over the summer, she was showing this is my team, and this is where we want to take it.”

As a freshman, Zajac -- who loves snowboarding, surfboarding and plays indoor soccer in Dyer during the offseason — learned a great deal about leadership.

“I really looked up to Shelby Carroll and how hard she worked my first year,” she said. “Going from middle school to high school, it’s all so new. You have to choose your role models right, you know what I’m saying?

“Shelby was not only a hard working person, she was a good kid. That’s just how I want to be for the other girls — put in hard work, don’t do bad things and don’t get in trouble.”

Zajac experienced an epiphany of sorts her freshman year as well following a heart-to-heart talk with her oldest sister, Rachel, now a fifth-year senior at IUPUI.

“Racehl came to my meet at New Prairie and was literally at every single spot on the course rooting for me and encouraging me,” Zajac said. “The Tuesday before New Prairie, we were at LaPorte. I think I ran like a 19:59 or 20 minutes. Rachel came up to me afterwards and gave me this (motivational) talk.”

The general message?

“She told me: ‘Don’t be scared. You’ve worked hard. Don’t be overwhelmed by this. Just go out, do your best and have fun.’ A few days later, I went out and chopped off...I don’t how much time and ran like a 19:12.”

Zajac has been on somewhat of a mission since.

She used to be scared at times before big meets in the past. That’s rare these days.

“Freshman and sophomore year I was very nervous before meets,” she said. “I felt like I had to go and so something great every time out. I pressured myself too much. Now, I just know where I am. I don’t over-think things.”

Instead, Zajac relies on her talent and work ethic to take over.

“I’m more comfortable,” she said. “I settle-in easier and just run. When I run now, I think: ‘It’s not last year anymore, it’s this year.’ I just go out and take care of business.”

If Zajac has a bad race now, she learns from it and moves forward.

“She’s always positive,” Downey said. “Even if it’s a bad race, she doesn’t let it get her down or (bother) her for like the next five or six days. She doesn’t keep dwelling on it, saying: ‘Oh, this happened, or I did this or that.’

“We’ll talk about what she did and what happened. She’s just so much stronger and tougher mentally. It’s maturity, really.”