Simon Fraser University student Julia Howley has high hopes for her third National Collegiate Athletics Association Division II championship race this weekend.

The 21-year-old runner from St. John's will lead her Burnaby, British Columbia school into Evansville, Ind., for the biggest, and most important, cross-country competition of the season. 

"For cross-country runners, it's a huge deal," Howley said over the phone from the campus of Simon Fraser University.

"National championships for any sport is kind of the pinnacle of collegiate athletics."

It's not the first time the Holy Heart of Mary High School graduate will stand at the start line for the six-kilometre championship race of the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

As a freshman in 2015 she travelled to the NCAA Division II finals as an alternate. Last year she finished 29th overall in a time of 21 minutes and 16 seconds — earning her a coveted "All-American" designation since she finished in the top 40.

"I would love to finish higher than I did last year," she said.

"I think I am in a good position right now, physically and mentally, gearing up for nationals. I am just really excited to see how I can do against those girls."

SFU women's cross country running

Howley, No. 224, says SFU's women's cross-country running team hopes to improve on last year's sixth-place finish. (SFU)

But Howley isn't focused only on herself. Cross-country running is also a team event, with each runner earning points based on their position at the finish. Last year, the women's team from SFU finished sixth overall — the best showing ever in the program's history. 

"We are ready to go and show them what we are made of, and hopefully go for a top-five finish this year."

The race gets underway Saturday in Evansville.