Women’s cross country gains first national title through ‘incredible team depth’

Cross country head coah Jerry Baltes

Nicole Lamson

Cross country head coah Jerry Baltes

Lauren Fitch

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Battling the snow and freezing temperatures in Louisville, Ky., the team defeated the top competitors in the nation including Adams State, who won the 2009 championship only eight points ahead of the Lakers. This year GVSU won with 66 points while Western State claimed second place with 95 points and Adams State finished third with 98 points.

Though the course at the National Championship race was just six kilometers long for the women, much more went into GVSU’s first-place effort than the 22 minutes it took the entire team to make it across the finish line.

The combination of the student athletes’ months of training season after season, associate head coach Joe Lynn investing four years into the team and the 12-year efforts of head coach Jerry Baltes in building the program finally culminated in the first-place finish on Saturday.

“12 years seems like a long time,” Baltes said. “We’ve had a lot of great student athletes come through to lay the groundwork- the foundation- a lot of great assistant coaches and great administration. It’s not a one-person, one-team entity, it’s a total commitment from everyone involved … I’m thankful that we got this one today.”

Coming off a second-place finish at the 2009 National Championship meet, the team used that defeat to fuel its determination behind this year’s win.

“I think we’ve got a lot of upperclassmen who have stuck with the program and believed in the program and believed in each other and, most importantly, in themselves,” Baltes said. “We’ve got a lot of great runners. We’ve got a lot of kids who have worked really, really hard and put themselves in a great position.”

Going into the meet, GVSU coaches encouraged the athletes to get to the front of the pack and establish a good position early in the race. Overall, they stressed staying relaxed and having confidence in the training up to that point.

“We knew if we came out and took care of business (Saturday), that we were the best team in the country,” Lynn said. “We just had to come out and do it, and that’s what it’s all about. We had a great year all year long.”

Senior Katherine McCarthy led the Lakers across the national line for the second year in a row with a time of 21 minutes and 10.6 seconds, which was good for fourth place overall in the field of 187 runners. Senior Megan Maceratini (21:34.3) was next in for GVSU followed by junior Rebecca Winchester (21:50.9), senior Kylen Cieslak (21:56.9), junior Julia Nowak (22:01.0), sophomore Monica Kinney (22:03.6) and junior Jessie Vickers (22:09.0). Junior Neely Spence from Shippensberg won the race with a time of 20:41.2.

McCarthy agreed with the coaches in saying it was the women’s desire to win this year that made the difference compared to their performances in previous years.

Crossing the finish line and realizing they had won the national title was an emotional time for the team as their families, friends, coaches and the rest of their teammates gathered around the finish area cheering while the women recovered. McCarthy said it was that moment that will be the most memorable of the whole experience.

“Having everyone at that finish line was the best moment, I think, ever. Having everyone there to support you and know you did well- it’s unreal. Everyone was cheering and it was just a great moment,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘This is my last cross country race and I need to give it all I have.’ When I crossed the finish line I just started crying because of the emotion of it being my last race … I had no idea how we had placed, I was just really happy.”

Lynn emphasized the fact that all of the women had contributed to the team’s successful season.

“We had incredible leadership from Katherine McCarthy. Megan Maceratini and Rebecca Winchester. They’ve been here three or four times now,” she said. “Kylen Cieslak (transferred from Northwood) and that’s why she came, for the opportunity to win a national championship, which she did today … Monica Kinney ran her heart out today after having a rough month of training. We put her back together and got her focused for this race and she ran a great race. Julia and Jessie added some depth there closing those gaps at the end …”

we needed some help there. The thing is, it’s not just our seven that ran today.”

He went on to credit the alternates, Sarah Dugan, Shaylee Vanderbaan, Karie McDonald and Sara Parks, with contributing to the team’s success as well as the other members who have trained alongside the top seven all season.

“It’s just incredible up and down across the entire roster. I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Lynn added.

GVSU had to battle adverse conditions en route their championship title with freezing temperatures and snow covering the course on race day. Kinney and Winchester were also dealing with nagging injuries that affected their training in the weeks leading up to the meet. Neither of them raced at the NCAA Midwest Regional meet on Nov. 20 in an effort to save themselves for the national race.

Winchester was suffering from a knee injury and had to scale back her mileage and even take a few days off to try and recover in time for the race. In addition to the physical challenges, she said it was also mentally difficult to push through the pain and keep going.

“Every time I felt like giving up, I thought about being all-American and winning,” Winchester said. Her goals were realized as the whole team earned all-American honors, which go to the top 40 competitors in each race.

The support of the fans there to witness the team’s accomplishment made the victory all the more sweet. Lori Burgess, a fifth-year member of the team, was among the group cheering for the runners at the meet and said she was proud of the women who raced.

“The fan support was awesome,” she said. “We were all out there half-naked and cheering like crazy. It’s a little cold now but it was worth it. They said it helped them a lot.”

For Baltes, too, the season will be a memorable one, though he said he was always confident in the team’s abilities even before the national title to verify it.

“About halfway (through the race), I turned to Joe and a couple of kids and said, ‘At this point we’ve just got to stay solid and not self-destruct,’” he said. “There were seven great efforts. I was just thrilled for the ladies and their accomplishments and their efforts.”

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