The choice of running track and cross country over softball was easy for Sarah Kortze.

“We don’t have any benches in cross country,” she said. “Everybody makes the team and everybody gets to play.”

Kortze did more than just make the team; she is the Journal Star State College Female Athlete of the Year.

The Concordia University senior won the Great Plains Athletic Conference cross country title last fall by almost 30 seconds. She finished fifth in the NAIA national championships. This spring, she won the GPAC 5,000-meter run by almost 30 seconds and took the 10,000 by 13 seconds.

“Nobody has dominated the cross country and the long distances in track in our conference like Sarah did this year,” Concordia track coach Kregg Einspahr said. “She does a wonderful job of listening and learning and has shown how important cross training, like weightlifting, can be.”

Kortze said her success is a byproduct of celebrating the run.

“I love the competition and I love running outside, enjoying God’s creation,” the Rockford, Ill., native said. “The cold in the late fall adds to the adventure. The rain and the wind aren’t that bad in the spring. You have to understand the enjoyment and passion I have for running outside, just about any time.”

Kortze followed her older brother, Aaron, to Concordia in Seward.

“I went there a lot when we visited my brother and when I got to choosing a Christian college with a great atmosphere and a great town, there was no other choice but Concordia for me,” Kortze said. “And I get to run for coach Einspahr and my friends. What more can I ask for?”

Kortze could ask for better health.

She’s battled injuries and missed the indoor track season this year. She’s missed most of her freshman year of competition for knee and lower leg injuries.

“You get the ups and downs and try to pay attention when the coaches and trainers say to relax and heal up,” Kortze said. “At the time, it seems like six weeks or six months is forever. Then, when you realize you have to have the big picture in mind, like my mom (Joyce) keeps reminding me, you take it one day at a time and get going again.

“And I got through all of this year without any injuries, and that really made me appreciate health. I can look back and see that I have no regrets and I gave the best I had to give every time out.”

With a semester left to pick up a degree in education to go with her degree in science, Kortze has one more indoor track season left. She also has the chance to teach in Hong Kong this summer through a program run by Johns Hopkins University.

“I found the program online and thought, what the heck, apply, and the next thing I knew, I was accepted.”

Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.