Oregon cross country recruit Katie Rainsberger was named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year on Thursday morning. Rainsberger will join the Ducks on scholarship in the fall.

Rainsberger was pulled out of her class at Air Academy High School in Colorado and taken into the locker room, where her family, coaches, teammates and classmates helped surprise her with the award. She thought she was there to pose for a few headshot photos, but when Rainsberger saw the local news outlets there filming, she was at a loss for words.

“It took me a second to realize what was happening,” Rainsberger said. “Just to hold the trophy and see the names on it that have come before me — Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter — it was kind of awe-inspiring.”

Over the past 31 years, Gatorade has honored more than 14,000 high school athletes on the state level, and just 280 National Players of the Year. Other previous recipients of the prestigious award include Karl-Anthony Towns, Maya Moore, Jabari Parker, Kerri Walsh and Andrew Wiggins.

“It’s just a tremendous to be even mentioned in that company,” Rainsberger said.

Rainsberger raced to the national title at the Nike Cross Nationals Final this past season with a time of 16:56.8. She also won the NXN Southwest Regional championship in 17:07 and the Class 4A individual state championship with a course-record time of 17:39, leading the Kadets to a state title as a team.

Rainsberger is the state’s returning Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, but didn’t know she was in the running for the national title.

“There’s always hope, but I had no idea it would actually happen,” Rainsberger said. “You dream of these things happening but you don’t picture it happening to yourself.”

Rainsberger committed to Oregon during the early signing period last fall. She developed an immediate bond with assistant coach Maurica Powell during her official visit, and felt Oregon was the atmosphere in which she wanted to be.

“With college athletics, you have to have a really good relationship with your coach,” Rainsberger said. “Being able to connect with [Powell] was the solidifying factor.”

Rainsberger maintained a 4.49 GPA in the classroom while serving as the sports editor of her school newspaper and volunteering locally for the USATF, as well as charity road races. She looks forward to wearing “a big ‘O’ on [her] chest” and continuing Oregon’s long legacy of distance running next school year.

“With company like Jordan Hasay and Galen Rupp — they’re people that you look up to,” Rainsberger said. “Just to be able to represent Oregon — it’s all really exciting.”

Katie Rainsberger of Air Academy High School (Colorado Springs, CO) poses with her Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award during an assembly at her school on Thursday, January 21, 2016. Photo Credit/Gatorade.

Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @KennyJacoby

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