Two roads diverged for Anneline Breytenbach when last summer neared its end.
The one to UCLA was not taken while the one less traveled brought her to Santa Barbara as a late admit to Westmont College.
She’s been poetry in motion for the Warriors ever since, winning her first official cross country race on Saturday at the William Jessup Warrior Invitational in Rocklin.
Breytenbach, who’d been a tennis and soccer star at Atascadero High School, literally came out of nowhere.
“I reached out to coach (Russell) Smelley when I got here, and he was super-helpful, allowing me to join the sprint team,” she said. “I’d always been a sprinter in high school and never did distance running or cross country in high school.”
But Breytenbach — an admittedly “hyper” competitor — couldn’t wait for track season in the spring. One day after a Monday sprint workout, she asked to join the long-distance runners who were already competing.
“I fell in love with cross country right away,” she said. “I love all the girls on the team and the coaches are amazing. It’s been an amazing experience.”
She amazed those coaches when she beat all-comers while running unofficially at the Warriors’ second meet — a three-way on Oct. 9 against Hope International and William Jessup.
“I surprised myself,” Breytenbach said. “I was not expecting that at all.”
She won again after the NAIA granted her eligibility for last week’s five-school meet at Jessup, completing the 5K course in a time of 19:16.3.
It’s been a whirlwind turn of events for an athlete who had her senior season of high school track cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had only one meet before everything was canceled,” she said. “I’d always been into sports, and suddenly not having team practices and competitions was a bit weird.”
As a high school junior, Breytenbach finished second in the 400 meters, third in the 200, and third in the 4×100 relay at the Mountain League Championships.
She also received first-team All-Mountain League honors last year in both soccer and tennis.
“I played the wing position in soccer and got to make a lot of the runs, and I think that’s helped me in cross country,” Breytenbach said. “I’ve always loved running. Other people complain about it and see running as a punishment for something. I’ve never seen it as a punishment. I’ve always seen it as an opportunity.”
She posted a singles record of 26-1 during last fall’s regular season of tennis, leading Atascadero to the CIF-Central Section semifinals. She’s already contacted coach Ellie Johnson about the possibility of playing for Westmont’s tennis team next spring.
“I’ve been playing tennis since I was about 7,” she said. “We actually play a lot of tennis together as a family.”
She is the second of three daughters in the family of Hendrick and Najore Breytenbach, expatriates of South Africa. Her older sister, Nicoline, had been an all-league tennis player at Atascadero before enrolling at UCLA in 2018. Her younger sister, Noella, plays volleyball and soccer.
“My sister was one of the draws of my going to UCLA,” Anneline said. “I’m not a very spontaneous person at all, so it was quite uncharacteristic of me to change to another school.
“It wasn’t one little thing but a bunch of things. I just like the relationships you can have with your peers and coaches and professors here at Westmont. It’s unlike anything you can get at a big school.”
Breytenbach made the switch after hearing that her prospective roommate at UCLA had decided to attend Vanderbilt instead.
“It made me realize that a change was even possible,” she said.
She contacted Westmont just a few weeks before the start of classes and asked if she could still enroll.
“They were super-helpful about getting me registered and into classes,” she said. “I’m very, very grateful to be here.”
Breytenbach, co-salutatorian of Atascadero High’s Class of 2020 with a grade-point average of 4.48, plans to major in neuroscience.
“I’m taking a premed track,” she said.
She had to deal with a longer course at Rocklin than the one she’d run at Westmont two weeks earlier.
“I wasn’t used to that distance, going from a 4K to the 5K, and I definitely went out too hard,” Breytenbach said. “I realized that I still had a long way to go.”
Breytenbach took the lead after the second mile but was passed at mile three by two runners from The Master’s University.
“It wasn’t until the last 300-to-400 meters that I was able to pass them again,” she said. “We were pretty much neck-and-neck the whole time, but I think my experience as a sprinter helped me quite a bit at the end.”
She actually thought she had lost to Mariah Hildebrandt.
“We were right next to each other, and I didn’t see my time, so I assumed she’d won,” Breytenbach said. “It was crazy. It wasn’t until about an hour after the race that coach Smelley came up and told me that I had won. I was taken quite aback.”
Her victory margin was one-hundredth of a second.
Breytenbach will be back in Rocklin on Nov. 7 to run the same course in the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships.
“The course is challenging and requires focus and determination,” Smelley said. “It was good to see the course to gauge the effort required to race equitably at GSAC.”
And it will no longer be the road less traveled for Westmont’s newest star.