No. 1 and No. 3 ranked XC teams set sights on regionals

Pete Barrows

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Among the nation’s Division II cross-country elite, the Grand Valley State University cross-country program is a perennial leader of the pack.

The men’s team at GVSU has won GLIAC titles 12 years in a row, the women 13, as the squads swept the field at the GLIAC championship meet at Michigan Tech University on Oct. 26. The lady Lakers have been ranked No. 1 in the nation since the preseason USTFCCCA was unveiled; the men rank No. 3.

In the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Championship meet at Wisconsin-Parkside University Saturday, the Lakers will be favored, as they have been for much of the season. Although in cross-country, the farther you are ahead, the more people there are chasing your steps.

“Rankings really don’t mean much in our sport,” said GVSU coach Jerry Baltes, who was recently named the GLIAC Head Coach of the Year on both the men’s and women’s sides. “It’s nice to have the respect of our piers, but ultimately the higher we are, the bigger the target on our back.

“There are a lot of very strong teams in the top 10 on both sides, and we will need to be ready to compete to the best of our ability this weekend at the regional and beyond at the NCAA Championship, when the time presents itself.”

Regionals will be run along the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross-Country course, a trying venue, and the University of Southern Indiana and Wisconsin-Parkside field strong teams ready to compete. Although, the Lakers have plenty of experience both with challenging courses and challengers.

“It’s definitely a tough course, but not near as tough at Michigan Tech was two weeks ago,” GVSU senior Larry Julson said. “The biggest trick to running at big meets is staying calm. It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype of who you are racing against or what meet you are at, but nothing is changing; a race is still just a race.

“We go out everyday and run, and these big meets aren’t any different. It’s really a mindset to embrace that you’ve done it a million times.”

Two-time GLIAC men’s cross country athlete of the week Alan Peterson, a junior, has led the Lakers for much of the season, but it was senior Brent Showerman who captured GLIAC Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year GLIAC honors after pacing the field at the GLIAC Championship meet with a time of 25 minutes and 18.8 seconds on the eight-kilometer course. Showerman is the ninth straight Laker to win both the meet and the award.

Sophomore Chad Cini, senior Josh Moskalewski and Julson have also been integral to the Lakers’ success this season.

“The men are coming off of their best team performance of the season at the GLIAC meet,” GVSU assistant coach Nick Polk said. “We saw what teamwork and cohesiveness can do for the group’s confidence. The group will continue to be our strength, but we will look to the front-running of Alan Peterson and Brent Showerman to guide us into the championship season.”

Junior Allyson Winchester came in second at the GLIAC meet with a time of 22:09.4 and paced a pack of three GVSU student-athletes who finished in the top five. Sophomore Jessica Janecke placed third (22:16.1), while senior Courtney Brewis came across the line in fifth (22:28.5). All three earned First Team All-GLIAC honors, although quality depth has also helped to define the lady Lakers this season.

“The women have been solid and consistent, and we feel we have 10-plus women that we can put on the starting line and get the job done,” Polk said. “We haven’t seen a complete race run yet from the women this year, but they are capable of great things and have been training like a great team. In our next two races, we expect to see it click and all of our training to come together to produce the team race we’ve been waiting for.”

With only the regional meet left separating the Lakers from the NCAA Division II National Championship meet in Spokane, Wash., on Nov. 23, GVSU will continue to run from the front without looking back.

“We are going to keep doing what we have been doing all year long; keep our nose to the grindstone and stay hungry,” Julson said. “Even if we win regionals, it won’t be enough until we win a national title. That is where our mindset has to be if we want to be there.

“In order for us to do what we want (win a national championship), we all need to have a really good day, which is completely in the realm of possibility. We’ve still got two and half weeks until the big dance to shine our shoes and iron our shirts, so I’m very excited about what we can do.”
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