Preview: GVSU cross country teams prepare for NCAA National Championship

GVL / Courtesy - Al Steible

GVL / Courtesy - Al Steible

D'Angelo Starks

After dominating the GLIAC Tournament and claiming the NCAA Regional Championship, the Grand Valley State men’s and women’s cross country teams set their sights on an NCAA National Championship. The teams travel to Evansville, Indiana, to run against the top Division II cross country programs Saturday, Nov. 18. 

Nationals will be a tough and competitive field, but it is not unlike the competition both Laker teams have faced throughout the year. The Lakers have run and competed well in big meets that included both Division I and II teams, including the Greater Louisville Classic on Saturday, Sept. 30, and the Spartan Invitational on Friday, Sept. 15, in East Lansing, Michigan. 

The Lakers finished with the second-best team overall time at 2:07:37, less than one minute behind first-place Michigan State at the Spartan Invitational. At the Greater Louisville Classic, the men finished 9th overall and first out of Division II programs, while the women finished 16th overall and first out of Division II.

Although both teams have seen their fair share of success this season, coach Jerry Baltes is fully aware of the competition the Lakers are looking to face this weekend.

“It’s the NCAA Championship, so it’s the best of the best,” Baltes said. “It’s certainly going to be competitive, but we went to those races at Louisville and the Michigan State meet, and even the Lewis Challenge, to put ourselves in a situation to be ready for a competitive environment.” 

The teams have had two weeks since their big Regional Championship wins where both the men’s and women’s teams claimed the title, so they have had two weeks to train and prepare for a big weekend. 

“We just stayed on our normal routine of training—we backed off a little bit here and there with mileage and intensity—but we had a great session last Friday, and we have a medium session right now and tomorrow evening, and we will be ready to go,” Baltes said. 

In cross country, the course the teams run and the weather can both be big factors in the outcome of the race. Luckily, most of the runners on both Laker teams have experience at the national course. The course is the same one they’ve run the last three years at regionals.

“Most of our crew has run it and understand it, and on the flip side, we’ve got some kids that haven’t raced it, so we will get down there Thursday and see it and Friday again,” Baltes said. “They are calling for rain the next few days, so it could get a little muddy and slippery. We will be ready for whatever the conditions present. 

“We’ve run some of our best races over the years in crappy conditions, whether it be snow or ice or mud or sleet. We usually embrace the challenging conditions, and we will be ready for them.” 

The GVSU women’s cross country team looks to build on a successful run of national titles and make it their sixth in the last five years. The men look to make up for last year’s race, where they had the lead for the majority of the race and then lost it down the stretch. Baltes tried to focus his team on this year instead of reminding them of the past. 

“There’s no doubt that’s in the back of their mind,” he said, “and because of that, we don’t need to drill it into their heads. We’re just focused on controlling what we can control and getting to the line ready to go.”

Win or lose, Baltes will find his team a success as long as they run a strong team race and leave it all out on the course. 

“If we run a great team race and someone else is in front of us, that doesn’t mean we are unsuccessful,” he said. “It just means that there’s a better team out there.

My expectations are to go in there and compete at a high level, race hard for each other and put our best effort forward, and hopefully at the end of the day that means we come out on top.” 

The race begins at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, in Evansville, Indiana.