Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Annika Andersen started to run faster and suddenly, inexplicably, she felt as though she couldn’t slow down.

She began to pass other competitors, a few, a handful and then a dozen.

“I was just flying by people,” Andersen, a 20-year-old senior cross country runner at Oregon Tech, said Thursday from the living room of her family’s home in Baker City.

“It was like I had wheels that were not my own. I’ve never experienced anything like it. God just gave me strength like I’d never had before.”

That strength — or more precisely, that speed — helped Andersen and her teammates from the university in Klamath Falls claim its first women’s cross country NAIA national championship.

Andersen, who ran cross country for four years at Oregon Tech and will also compete in several track events this spring, finished 59th in the individual standings at the Nov. 18 meet at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But it was her blistering performance over the final 150 yards of the 3.1-mile course that was crucial.

Andersen passed 14 runners in that span, including one competitor from the team that finished second, and two from the university that placed third.

Oregon Tech won by six points.

“When you win a race by six points, every place matters,” Oregon Tech Coach Jack Kegg told the Klamath Falls Herald and News.

“Annika ran well.”

It was a thrilling conclusion to Andersen’s college cross country career — a career she never expected even to start.

Andersen, who was homeschooled through her sophomore year in high school and then attended the Baker School District’s Eagle Cap Innovative High School, graduating in 2015, didn’t intend to compete in cross country in college.

She participated in the sport, along with track, only during her senior year in high school.

But Andersen said she enjoyed running competitively, and she was inspired by her Baker cross country coaches, Mike Knutson and Davey Peterson, and track coach Suzy Cole.

When she arrived in Klamath Falls for her freshman year at Oregon Tech, Andersen said she read something about the school’s women’s cross country, which the previous year had competed for the first time at the NAIA national meet, placing 11th.

Andersen said she was a trifle intimidated, wondering if she was ready to compete for a team with such high standards.

But she joined the team as a walk-on freshman, and she’s been a key cog of the Hustlin’ Owls squad since.

Oregon Tech finished eighth at the NAIA meet her sophomore year and 10th her junior year before its historic achievement this fall.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Andersen said. “When I was in high school I never imagined I would be a college runner.”

Nor did Andersen ever expect to finish a race the way she did in Iowa last month.

“I normally don’t kick,” she said, referring to a runner who accelerates for the last segment of a race.

But in her final cross country race in the Oregon Tech uniform, Andersen suddenly revealed that extra burst of speed.

It wasn’t until days later that she realized how vital her role was in securing the national title for her team.

Andersen emphasizes, though, that her contribution was no greater than any of her fellow Hustlin’ Owls.

“My teammates’ roles were just as critical,” she said. “Everyone plays a really important role. It’s absolutely a team sport. It was cool to have a part in that.”

Andersen, who is majoring in renewable energy engineering and electrical engineering, said she would like to pursue a career in the hydroelectric field, something she finds “really fascinating.”

She hopes to graduate in the fall of 2019.