TURLOCK — Courtney Anderson already is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in Cal State Stanislaus history.
The senior from Folsom High School and American River College is the first Warrior to be named the West Region’s top female track athlete, and last week she was honored as the Warriors’ Female Athlete of the Year.
There’s only one goal left: a national championship.
Anderson qualified for this week’s NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships in four events but will compete in the 5,000 meters, where she is seeded 15th, and in the 1,500, where her time of 4 minutes, 20.65 seconds leads the field.
She’s one of 10 Warriors who have made the trip to Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich., for the three-day event, which starts Thursday.
“Courtney’s made a big splash this year in a lot of events,” said Diljeet Taylor, who was named the region’s Head Coach of the Year. “It’s a tremendous feat to qualify in four events, and we had to make a decision as to which events we were going for in the nationals.”
So Anderson won’t compete in the 800 or 3,000 steeplechase. Lopping off the steeplechase was a difficult decision. Not only was it her specialty entering this season, but she would have been the event’s No. 3 seed.
“It’s hard to do the 1,500 and steeplechase because they’re so close together,” Anderson said. “It was hard because the steeplechase is my main event, having trained for that for five years. Coach Taylor told me last year that our new plan was the 1,500, and it took awhile to adjust to that, but it’s worked.”
Switching focus wasn’t the most difficult choice Anderson has made. After competing in the spring of 2012, the decision was made to have her redshirt during the 2013 outdoor season, giving her an extra season to become a stronger runner. It started to pay off during the indoor season, during which she earned All-America honors in the 3,000 and with the distance medley relay team.
“I didn’t run the way I wanted two years ago, so coach and I had the idea of me just running on my own to get stronger and faster,” Anderson said. “It’s tough mentally because you don’t have a uniform. You’re part of the team, but not really, so it’s all on you.
“My improvement was mainly mental. It was so exciting to support my teammates last year, and I told myself I wanted to come back and do well.”
Taylor said decisions to redshirt athletes never are taken lightly, and it takes a special competitor to make the non-competitive year work the way it has for Anderson.
“I thought it would be a smart move that would help her develop a little more, and it’s worked to everyone’s advantage,” Taylor said. “Honestly, as a coach, you always want to see this, but it seldom comes to fruition.”
Anderson gives considerable credit to training partner Marina Vorderbruegge, who will go to nationals as the No. 7 seed in the 1,500.
“We definitely push each other a lot,” Anderson said. “There’s no one else out there like her. She’s a good friend on and off the track, so she’s there after good races and bad races and good workouts and bad workouts. We push each other, and I wouldn’t be here without her.”
According to Taylor, the 10 athletes competing in 14 events represents the Warriors’ largest contingent to qualify for the national meet. She said it also reflects a continuation of the recent decisive uptick in Stanislaus athletics, coming at the end of a year in which the school claimed California Collegiate Athletic Association championships in women’s soccer, men’s basketball and men’s golf.
“It’s also our goal to win a conference championship, but our focus this year was to qualify as many kids as possible for the NCAAs,” Taylor said. “If we have success at the national level, it will enable us to recruit more kids into the program.
“With 10 kids, Stanislaus is being well-represented at the national meet, and we’re able to be successful as coaches because of the support above us – from the president all the way to the athletic director.”