GVSU indoor track preview 2016-17

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Head coach Jerry Baltes leads the mile runners to their starting lines during the Bob Eubanks Open inside the Kelly Family Sports Center hosts the on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Head coach Jerry Baltes leads the mile runners to their starting lines during the Bob Eubanks Open inside the Kelly Family Sports Center hosts the on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2016.

Jacob Arvidson

It’s known as the triple crown—winning a national championship in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field during the same school year.

This season, fresh off Grand Valley State’s fifth women’s cross country national championship, the women’s track and field team has its eyes set on that elusive goal. They would be only the second team ever with that achievement, joining the 2010-11 Laker women.

Next up on the path to the triple crown is the indoor track and field season. The Laker women finished third in the country one year ago, while the men took home fifth place.

Senior Kendra Foley, who won her second individual national championship in cross country this fall, will continue to pull her weight as the cross country team moves indoors. But with track and field, Foley and her fellow distance runners are only one piece of the puzzle.

“The triple crown is the ultimate goal,” she said. “Since (cross country) started it out, I think everyone else is going to step up to the challenge.”

Points will need to come from other areas too if the Laker women are to make a national push. GVSU graduated two national champions last season in distance star Amy Cymerman and pole vault specialist Jaime Roberts.

Athletes who were merely point scorers last year will need to rise into a prominent leadership role. One of these Lakers is junior sprinter Angela Ritter.

“I’m just trying to set an example for all of the underclassmen,” she said.

Foley will also be called upon by the women’s team for leadership.

“I’ve been on this team for four years and I’ve seen so many good leaders come and go,” she said. “To step up and take their place is a hard task, but it’s something I’m excited about. There’s a lot of energy on both the girl’s and the boy’s track teams, and to be there and be the person to create the energy in the meets and at practices is going to be a cool thing.”

With the women on pace for the breakthrough that winning the triple crown would be, it is important not to forget about the men.

The Laker men were no joke at cross country nationals either, taking home second place. Those same distance runners will lead the way this track and field season.

Redshirt sophomore Zach Panning took fifth at the cross country national meet and is excited to keep that momentum going on the indoor track.

“We’re excited to start competing with the track team,” he said.

The men’s track and field team graduated some extreme talent. Among those athletes were Sean Wells, a national champion in the 60-meter hurdles and the 110-meter hurdles, and Darien Thornton, a national champion in the hammer throw who would go on to compete at the Olympic Trials.

GVSU will need leaders like senior triple jumper Samora Nesbitt to point the team in the right direction.

“Last year I was one of the oldest jumpers and this year I’m still one of the oldest jumpers, so I’m just trying to set that good role,” he said. “Everyone will have to step up. We don’t have a Sean Wells. We don’t have a Darien Thornton. It’s going to take across the boards. Everyone is going to have to score from every event group.”

But that’s exactly where GVSU coach Jerry Baltes sees the strengths of both the men’s and women’s teams.

In past years, the strength of the GVSU team has been its depth. It has been a key ingredient for creating the track and field powerhouse that the Laker program has become under Baltes. Now in his 18th year, Baltes again sees depth as his team’s strong suit.

“Whereas a lot of programs have one or two really good athletes or performers, I feel we have one or two in each event,” he said. “All our event areas are represented well and can compete at a high level.”

Nesbitt knows points will have to come from all over if the Lakers are to make an impact nationally, but there is hope. Both the men’s and women’s teams have young talent ready to take center stage.

Sophomore Sarah Beulla brings a new face to the sprints.

“In the preseason she’s been looking good and she’s been pushing me to be faster because she’s been catching me,” Ritter said. “She’s fast, she’s powerful and she just has a lot of motivation.”

Freshman Alex Reeves will give the women a boost in scoring in the triple jump. Nesbitt has taken the youngster under his wing and foresees big things.

“She’s picking it up very fast and she’s learning a lot really quickly,” Nesbitt said. “Physically she’s prepared to do it. She has a very strong body and I think she’ll be good at it.”

In the distance events, the Laker women get Gina Patterson back from injury in January. The sophomore played a prominent role at nationals last year. In addition, GVSU will see the rise of redshirt freshman Stacey Metzger, who was named GLIAC Freshman of the Year for cross country this fall.

“I’m going to put my cards on Stacey Metzger,” Foley said. “She was our second place girl at the national (cross country) meet.

“This will be her first 5K on the track in uniform and I think she’s got big things ahead of her.”

The men also have a budding distance star in Emmanuel Arop. If the freshman from Nigeria can provide the Lakers with points in the sprinting events, it will give the team a boost they may not have been expecting.

“We’re hoping he can fill some shoes in the sprints,” Baltes said.

The Lakers open the indoor season Friday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. in the Kelly Family Sports Center.