Newcomer shows promise for GV cross country

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible
Zach Panning (517)

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible Zach Panning (517)

Andy Smith

In 17 years as the head coach of the Grand Valley State men’s and women’s cross country teams, Jerry Baltes has built programs that consistently sit atop the GLIAC and make national headlines.

When he gets a young standout runner like Zach Panning, it’s bad news for the Lakers’ competitors.

In his first two races, Panning has made a name for himself while leading GVSU to promising results early in the season.

A redshirt freshman, Panning was originally on pace to compete for Division I Temple University in both cross county and track and field. In a stroke of good fortune for GVSU, Temple got rid of its track and field program, and Panning decided to bring his talents to Allendale.

“The team was the reason that I decided to come here. When I came here on my visit, they were acting like one big happy family by just joking around with each other and having a great time. Once I saw that I knew that I would fit in here right away.” Panning said. “It was a very easy transition for me to make. The coaches made it easy for me to adjust and the team took me under their wing like I was one of them.”

In his first college race, Panning earned a seventh place finish at the Spartan Invite hosted by Michigan State. Panning again had a strong showing in his second meet, snagging 19th place at the Greater Louisville Classic with a time of 24:25.06, which is among the fastest times in school history for freshmen on a certified 8K run.

“He has been right near the expectations we had for him so far this year,” Baltes said. “We are always looking for a little more performance-wise, but most importantly he is very consistent with his training and fitness levels and is coming along very well.

“He also brings a little bit of freshness to the team, he is very laid back and fits in with the guys very well. The guys respect him a lot because he trains very hard and they are very excited and happy to have a really young and talented individual to help the team moving forward.”

Despite it being Panning’s first year competing in college, he’s already demonstrating a work ethic and dedication that his older team members can emulate, strive for and learn from. A perk of being young in GVSU’s system, however, is the chance to learn from those who have been in a position of success on the course before.

“He has tremendous drive. He puts the focus where it needs to be when the time comes,” said senior Chad Cini. “He is very calm and collected, with a great focus on what needs to be accomplished and what he wants to accomplish, and his energy is great and it is always going into the right place.

“I want to pass on any little thing I can down to him, or do anything that I possibly can to make sure he has the best success in the future as possible.”

Panning and the Laker men will be back in action this weekend when they travel to Romeoville, Illinois for the Conference Crossover meet.

“This team is awesome, and this group of guys is spectacular, I think we have a great chance to do something really special this year as a team, and for the next few years after.”