Tim Smith didn't plan on going to Salisbury State University.
He didn't plan a serious running career there, either, but the junior from Manchester has blossomed into the school's finest distance runner.
With November's NCAA cross country championships approaching, Smith is one of the top prospects for the Division III finals.
The North Carroll High graduate, who is the son of Tom and Betty Smith of Manchester, visited Salisbury State by accident.
His sister was looking at colleges, and he went with her. Although she chose another school, Smith had seen enough.
"I didn't visit any other schools," he says.
Since he wasn't particularly serious about track, he wasn't deterred by Salisbury's lack of hills on which to train.
Smith had been the No. 2 cross country runner at North Carroll and the No. 3runner in the 3,200-meter run for the Panthers track team.
But hefound his stride in the collegiate cross country event -- two miles longer than the 3-mile high school courses.
"I don't have a whole lot of speed," he says, "the longer the distance, the better I place."
He also found himself growing more commited to the sport.
"I got a lot more serious about it. I run year-round now."
He's also working with weight-training equipment two or three days a week.
Salisbury coach Jerry Thomas has found Smith responds best when he's pushed.
"I train him a little bit different ly because he's very durable," Thomas says, explaining that Smith runs about 60 to 70 miles per week while his teammates run 50 to 55.
Smith, who also runs the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events for the Sea Gulls in track and field, trains for 13 straight days, with every other Sunday off. This is also the first year Smith trained through the summer.
Last fall, Smith was suffering from mononucleosis, although he wasn't diagnosed until the season ended. He ran the last few meets and even ran a marathon with the illness.
Smith recalls he ran the marathon in 2 hours and 55 minutes "and less than a week later I found out I had mono."
This year, Smith has turned in some dazzling times. His personal best in cross country was a 25:57 at Christopher Newport College in Virginia late last month.
That's pretty good for an accounting major with a 3.3 grade-point average who picked the sport for the fun of running with friends.
Smith's father ran track in high school and took up the sport again when his son was 10. Smith accompanied his father to the races and gradually began running in them himself.
"I really always run just for the camaraderie, running with my friends," he says. "I like the competition end and the social aspect of it -- hanging out with the same people. I really look forward to getting backto school in the fall and running."
Has training on the flat Eastern Shore been a problem? Thomas says he occasionally loses recruits to schools such as Frostburg State University because of the terrain.But Smith sees those guys -- in passing.
"It hasn't hurt me at all," he says. "At a lot of the meets I pass people from Frostburg and Baltimore."
He says tackling the grueling courses is more a mentalthan physical effort.
Smith maintains a friendly rivalry with Frostburg's Chris Lesser, who attended Salisbury State his freshmen year, and with Joe Kirschner, a Westminster High grad who is now running for Ursinus.
Will he make it to the NCAA championships?
"At thebeginning of the season I wasn't thinking about it, but then I started running so well," he says.
This year, the region's top three teams will attend the nationals, along with the top six cross country runners who are not members of those teams.
Smith jokes that he wasdismayed when he learned the finals are in Virginia.
"I was hoping to get a little plane ride."
But if he ends up making that two-hour bus trip, it will be the ride of his life. If not, well, Thomas predicts Smith's senior year will be even better.