GVSU cross country’s sights set on national championship

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Kendra Foley competes during the 2014 Track and Field National Championships in Louisville, KY.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Kendra Foley competes during the 2014 Track and Field National Championships in Louisville, KY.

Brady McAtamney

Not every season can have a happy ending.

Last year, the Grand Valley State cross country team was unable to achieve the result that they so badly desired – a national championship. The Laker men placed fourth and the women second at the 2015 nationals in Joplin, Missouri.

Just because they fell short, though, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re discontented with last season as a whole.

“I definitely would consider last year to be successful. A lot of people had high hopes of us winning again, but I think, at the end of the day, we went out at nationals and gave it our all,” said senior Kendra Foley.

The Lakers are happy with a GLIAC championship as well as a NCAA Midwest Regional Championship for both the men’s and women’s teams.

There are some runners returning to this year’s battalion that will look to make an impact and finish what last year’s team started.

“On the men’s side we have a great crew coming back,” said GVSU coach Jerry Baltes. “Of course Zach Panning finishing 5th, that’s a highlight, Wuoi Mach, Bryce Bradley, Chris May. We’re looking for those four guys to do big things.

‘On the ladies side, of course we’ve got Kendra (Foley), and Gina (Patterson) who were both top 15 last year, Kendra second and national champ two years ago. Her training is going real well. We’ll look for them to set the tone for us and we’ve got about probably 12-15 ladies and any of them can be our third to seventh runner, so they’ll need to take the next step before the season rolls around.”

In addition to those athletes returning to the course, there figure to be a handful of fresh faces that will look to leave their mark on the season as well.

“We have a great recruiting class this year and our true freshmen look really good on paper. Some of them might not be in uniform this year but we have some redshirt freshmen who will be looking to do really well,” Panning said.

Included on this year’s schedule are some important dates in order for Baltes to make a few crucial decisions as far as who will be the main competitors for the Lakers come championship season.

The Lakers will open their season Sept. 16 at the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, which the Lakers are excited for, but Baltes describes the event as a rust-buster and a starting point to gauge where the team is at.

Afterwards, they will travel to Louisville, Kentucky on Oct. 1 to take part in the Greater Louisville Classic. They wrap up the season with events in Lansing, Illinois and Muskegon before the GLIAC championships in Big Rapids.

One factor that will help the Lakers get through the grind of training and competing until the season reaches its exodus is the fact that both teams, men’s and women’s, are like family.

“Our team compared to others is that we’re bigger which helps because we’re pushing each other every day. We say we’re like a family. I have 30 sisters and 50 brothers,” Foley said.

As far as goals go for this season, Baltes and the Lakers have a clear vision as to where they want to be at the end of November.

“Ultimately, it’s to compete for a national championship. We want to toe the line down in Tampa to compete for a title,” Baltes said. “Certainly compete for a conference and regional championship and have everyone improve and reach their potential, you know, at the end of the year we can only put seven of our best on the line.”