Steadfast Lakers begin outdoor season in NC

GVL / Archive
Kalena Franklin competing in the 60m hurdles.

GVL / Archive Kalena Franklin competing in the 60m hurdles.

Tate Baker

In 2012, a wave of spring heat produced near-perfect weather for the start of the outdoor track and field season. Two years later, however, Old Man Winter is dragging his feet, and the track in Allendale is still covered in snow.

“There’s still snow on the ground. It’s really depressing that we can’t get outside just yet, but we will keep going to work indoors,” senior Nate Hammersmith said. “I don’t think that will hinder our transition to competing outdoors in any way.”

The Grand Valley State University teams will face the challenge of a delayed transition as they race into the outdoor portion of their 2014 schedule, but the goal to be one of the top programs in the nation remains the same.

The GVSU teams ended their indoor seasons with top-six finishes at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships on March 15, and to most programs, that would seem like quite the accomplishment.

However, the winter season left something to be had for the No. 2 Laker women and No. 4 Laker men, considering their expectations and level of talent.

The GVSU women are certainly expected to have another prominent campaign this spring, and a few individuals in particular figure to compete for national titles individually, such as seniors Kalena Franklin (60-meter hurdles, 200-meter dash), Kristen Hixson (pole vault) and Courtney Brewis (5,000-meter run).

“We have a really talented group of athletes on both the men’s and women’s teams,” said Franklin, who garnered three All-American honors to cap off the indoor season. “I know we were all a little bit disappointed with how we placed at indoor nationals, but I think that’s just going to motivate us to get the job done this time around.

“We have a goal in all of our minds, and we do a great job of not losing sight of that.”

Sophomores Darien Thornton (throws), Ethan Barnes (800-meter run) and Sean Wells (60-meter hurdles) figure to be in contention on the men’s side.

The Lakers appear to have what it takes to challenge the nation’s best, and the goal certainly seems to be within reach this time around — especially because the national meet will be in Allendale on May 22.

“We are definitely excited to get things up and going again,” Hammersmith said. “We realize that we could have done somewhat better at the indoor nationals, and that’s really going to fuel us going forward.”

GVSU, which captured its 5th and 15th consecutive GLIAC indoor titles on March 2, comes into the spring season as the likely favorite to repeat in the conference — but that doesn’t mean the Lakers will let their guard down.

The team competed in its backyard for seven of the 11 scheduled meets during the indoor season, but trips to Illinois, Kentucky, California and Ohio will make for a travel-heavy outdoor schedule this time around.

“The kids are excited for a change in scenery — they want to get out of this inescapable winter,” head coach Jerry Baltes said. “It lifts the spirits and, who knows, that could translate to some big performances down the road.”

The Lakers begin their first road trip of the season today at the Raleigh Relays in North Carolina. The team will then return home for a dual meet against Saginaw Valley State University at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The event will take place inside the Kelly Family Sports Center due to weather.