Feature written by Concordia sports information student assistant David Youngs
MOORHEAD, Minn---When senior Kara Andersen came to Concordia as a freshman, the Cobbers hadn't finished in the Top 5 of the MIAC since 2000.
After a year full of breakthroughs, Anderson and the Cobbers have the opportunity to finally reach that higher ground in the conference and place in the Top 5 this Saturday at the MIAC Championship Meet at Carleton.
This season has been a year full of successes for the Cobber Women. The team achieved its first-ever regional ranking and currently sit at No.8 in the latest USTFCCCA Central Region Poll. Throughout the season the Cobber's have posted strong performances, placing highly against conference and non-conference opponents.
Much of the team's success can be credited to Andersen, who has been a Top 5 runner for the Cobbers since her freshman year. This year Andersen has been a force for Concordia scoring as one of the team's Top 3 runners in every race. And while Andersen credits a strong summer of running to her success, one of the largest contributors to her strong season has been the competition amongst her own teammates.
"We've had a really strong top three which has been super fun," Anderson said. "It's been great to race against my teammates and have them push me. It's been really helpful."
That top three Cobber runners in 2019 have consisted of Andersen along with senior Miriah Forness, and junior Meritt Miller. The trio have been instrumental in the success of the Cobbers this year, challenging each other position-wise throughout the season.
"We haven't really had that the last couple of years and so having other teammates take the lead when I'm not having a great race has been super helpful and takes the pressure off of me," Andersen said.
Miller agrees that the strong competition with her teammates has made them all better, both in meets and in practice.
"We're all doing the same workouts so we're trying to get the same times," Miller said. "If one of us is having an off day we'll encourage the other person and tell them to keep going."
One of the forces that has propelled the Cobbers to a competitive season in the MIAC has been their wide spread of talent. With Andersen and Miller leading the pack, the Cobbers have seen strong results all season from Forness, Josie Herrmann, Carly Fornshell, and Isabel Fredrickson who are all standouts for the Concordia track and field team as well.
"When you combine some of the seasoned cross-country runners like Kara and Meritt with that spark of some really good talent from track coming in, you kind of get the best of both worlds," said second-year head coach Laura Januszewski.
That depth has helped put the Cobbers on the map according to Januszewski.
"People are starting to pay attention - the rest of the MIAC is paying attention," Januszewski said. "The more depth that we have has made a huge difference."
In addition to being one of the team's top runners Andersen also serves as team captain. And while reflecting on her four years as a Cobber she believes that she has grown not only as a runner, but as a leader as well.
"I feel like I've gotten way more comfortable with myself being able to talk with people that I wouldn't have talked to begin with," Andersen said. I'm more confident in myself and my abilities."
Miller appreciates Andersen's positive attitude as a leader and has enjoyed watching her grow as a competitor.
"Kara has become more confident in herself. I've talked to her about that, and it's fun to go out there and watch her race fast without doubting herself, knowing that she can do it, Miller said.
As a Mathematical Finance major and Data Analytics minor, Andersen is no stranger to logistics and goal setting. In her two years as Kara's coach, former All-American track athlete Januszewski has enjoyed watching the senior work towards her goals, especially this year as the two have gotten closer.
"When you put big goals out there you also have to talk about the struggles of getting yourself there, Januszewski said. "Last year we could cut to the surface of some of those struggles but this year we've built a relationship where we can talk about more of the struggles of getting there because anybody that has had goals can tell you that it is a process to get there."
There's no doubt in Januszewski's mind that Andersen has the capability to capture some of her goals as the season comes to an end. The biggest of those goals include obtaining All-MIAC honors as well as becoming an All-Region award winner and qualifying for nationals.
"She's got this trifecta (of goals) that she's trying to get to and she's there," Januszewski said. "She's got teammates that can help her get through (to her goals) this year."
Andersen says that Januszewski's competitive attitude has helped both her and the rest of the team surge to new levels this year.
"She has brought that D1 mindset to our program, Andersen said. "It's been great for not only our top runners, but also for our whole team to experience that."
While Andersen is excited to gear up for the end of the season, she will miss all the memories that cross country have brought her over the past four years.
"(I'll miss) being able to run with other people, being able to see the team every day," Andersen said. That's the biggest thing that I'll miss because once you start running later (after college), you run by yourself all the time."
Even though Andersen's cross-country career will come to an end after the fall, she doesn't plan to stop running anytime soon. The Plymouth, Minnesota native has a goal to run a race in all 50 states.
In addition to her post-grad "cross country" race aspirations, Andersen wants to combine her degrees in Mathematical Finance, Data Analytics, and Environmental Studies to work for a sustainable company. She is passionate about environmental issues and would love to help a company grow on the managerial side using her broad spectrum of education.
Regardless of where Andersen ends up, Januszewski is confident that the Concordia senior will thrive wherever the road takes her.
"When I look at Kara, I see a lot of her qualities that are going to transfer from athletics to academics," Januszewski said. "She's going to have no trouble being successful in whatever she wants to do."