GVSU cross country prepares for nationals

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible
Zach Panning (right) competes during NCAA D2 Midwest Regional Championship in Evansville, Indiana.

Alan Steible

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible Zach Panning (right) competes during NCAA D2 Midwest Regional Championship in Evansville, Indiana.

Danny Schwartz

After a two week break, it’s finally here.

This Saturday, Nov. 19, the Grand Valley State cross country team will compete in the NCAA Division II National Championship in St. Leo, Florida.

Going into Saturday, the GVSU women’s side is ranked second overall on the national level, with only Adams State ahead of them. On the men’s side, GVSU is ranked third overall nationally, with only Colorado Mines and Adams State leading them in first and second place, respectively.

Just in the past week, the men’s side slid down from second to third place on the national rankings when Adams State passed them, but GVSU’s Zach Panning doesn’t put too much weight into the national rankings, and believes the only obstacle they could face on Saturday is themselves.

“In the past, we might not have been ready for races mentally,” Panning said. “I think it’s important that we’re all mentally prepared for the pain, and knowing in the back of our minds that it’s just a cross country race and that even if we don’t win a national title, we still had a very successful season.”

On the women’s side, GVSU senior Kendra Foley is excited the squad is ranked second going into nationals.

“We’ve gone into nationals in the past ranked first, and that kind of puts a target on our back,” Foley said. “And so coming into the race in second gives us an advantage in that people are focusing on Adams State instead of us, and we get to go in there and show everyone how hard we’ve been working.”

Foley said practice for the team heading into nationals has been pretty solid and steady, and that over the past few days they’ve really started to taper down in mileage and cut back so the runners have fresh legs for Saturday.

The men’s race will be a 10K and the women’s race will be a 6K, with 32 teams on each side competing.

The team will be flying out of Grand Rapids early Thursday morning, Nov. 17, and will arrive in Florida around midday. They have a practice scheduled for Thursday afternoon to get a feel for the course, since they’ve never seen or been on it.

Saturday is the big day, in which the team will be waking up bright and early at 4:30 a.m. to get a pre-race breakfast in and then get ready to race at 8:30 a.m.

Heading into nationals, GVSU coach Jerry Baltes is confident in his team, but knows there’s three or four really good teams on both sides, and that if any one of them races really well, any one of them could win the title.

“In order to win, we have to get out of the gate early, put ourselves in a good position, and really have a great last 2,000 meters of the race on both sides,” Baltes said. “And most important is to be tough. There’s no magic to it, there’s no trick plays, it’s just racing to the best of our ability. If we do that, we should be successful.”