Sophomore sprinter aims for record book at GVSU

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Angela Ritter prepares herself to grab the relay baton and continue in the Womens 4x100 Relay race. Grand Valley State University hosts, for the second year in a row, the annual NCAA Division II Track and Field Championship competitions Thursday, May 21, 2015 through Saturday, May 23, 2015.

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Angela Ritter prepares herself to grab the relay baton and continue in the Women’s 4×100 Relay race. Grand Valley State University hosts, for the second year in a row, the annual NCAA Division II Track and Field Championship competitions Thursday, May 21, 2015 through Saturday, May 23, 2015.

Jacob Arvidson

Nothing has been able to slow down Grand Valley State sophomore sprinter Angie Ritter.

A coaching change after both her freshman year of high school and her freshman year of college couldn’t do it. Overwhelming pressure from a record-setting older sister couldn’t slow her down, either.

In the end, all the things that could have slowed Ritter down have only made her faster.

“My freshman year I had these coaches that I really liked, but then they left before my sophomore year and new ones came in,” she said. “I didn’t have good feelings about (the new coach) at first, but then by the end of the season I liked him even more than my other coaches. That’s kind of how it is this year with coach Alan (Dunson). Last year was coach Keith (Roberts). I loved him. And then coach Alan came in, so I’m still trying to build trust with him.”

Even in his first year at GVSU, Dunson, the new sprints and hurdles coach, has quickly grown on Ritter.

“He’s very understanding,” she said. “I went into his office a few weeks ago and complained about classes, and he just sat there and listened to me.”

Dunson knows a coaching change can be tough, but he has seen Ritter’s strength emerge through the uncertainty.

“What makes Angie unique is her ability to adapt to new stresses in a short amount of time,” he said. “I’ve observed how disciplined and trusting she is. When a new authority figure arrives, there can be a period of time where doubt or fear could arise. She has trusted a new coach, philosophy and training regime. I am excited to see what consistency she finds throughout the year.”

Ritter may have unparalleled speed, but there are still portions of her sprinting that could improve. Roberts, a former GVSU coach now at the University of Pittsburgh, was a big part of Ritter’s improvements as a freshman.

“He’s the reason my blocks are so much better this year,” she said.

The more she improves, the faster Ritter will get, but with that speed comes expectation and pressure. That pressure is nothing new for her.

In high school, Ritter’s expectations were high before she even stepped on the track because of her older sister. Kelsey Ritter had broken several school records at Frankenmuth High School, and the comparisons followed Angie her entire high school career.

“Because of my sister, and all of her records and how fast she was, people were expecting me to do the same things as her,” she said. “Whenever someone would talk to me about running, they’d always talk to me about my sister, too.”

After Angie graduated from Frankenmuth in 2014, she and Kelsey each had two individual records to their name.

“I feel like it’s an even split,” she said.

Like any young student-athlete, Ritter is not immune to pre-competition jitters.

The nerves start kicking in about two days before the actual meet, Ritter said. The excitement, the pressure to perform, and impatience to compete all play a role.

“I’m just jittery the entire day. On meet day I’ll just try to do everything normal. But once I get out of class, the nerves just keep building up. I’ll go get Subway and have a sub before I go.”

Maybe the trick to Ritter’s success is Subway. Take away the sandwich and she might slow down, but the chances are quite slim.

She has learned to turn the pressure into motivation. The last thing any competing team wants to face is a motivated Ritter, but that’s what GVSU’s foes are going to get each meet.

“If it comes down to a pure guts race, she’s the only one that can win it,” Dunson said. “I’m a huge Steve Prefontaine fan, and many of his competitive quotes come to mind when I think about her work ethic.”

Ritter is no stranger to winning awards. She won multiple state championships in high school, but being presented with the GLIAC Freshman of the Year award was an honor, she said.

“Knowing that the coaches voted for you as the No. 1 freshman athlete of them all is just… I feel like I should have such a big head,” she said.

Ritter’s roommate and teammate, redshirt freshman Tori Patton, said success hasn’t changed the star sprinter at all.

“She is one of the most humble girls I know,” Patton said. “She doesn’t let it get to her head. She’s the same everywhere, whether it be on the track, at home or in the classroom. She’s still her goofy self.”

Role models were a big part of Ritter’s freshman year at GVSU. Carly Scott, who sprinted alongside Ritter during the 2014-15 season, was, and still is, one of those role models.

“Last year I’d like to think we grew pretty close,” Scott said. “I could see myself in her. I tried to be the upperclassman and make sure she knew how great she was. I always tried to be positive and tried to talk about hard work. I tried to push that attitude on her because I know she loves it as much as I do.”

Scott’s message wasn’t missed by Ritter.

“Carly had a hard work ethic,” she said. “She never skipped out on anything. She never skipped on lifts, never skipped out on abs after. I felt like I was her puppy all the time at meets and stuff. I felt like I was getting annoying to her because I was always following her around.”

Sometimes she even referred to Scott as “mom,” because that’s what their relationship was like, according to Ritter.

“After watching her win her first race this season, I felt like a proud mom or sister,” Scott said.

Ritter was the only freshman sprinter during the 2014-15 season for GVSU. The other freshmen were all hurdlers. Scott remembers when the lone freshman sprinter surprised her fellow teammates in the first meet.

“In the first meet we don’t expect a whole lot as runners,” she said. “I remember (Ritter) went in the heat before me. I watched her run faster than I’d ever run before and win the heat. I just smiled. I said, ‘Here she is. She’s stepping up.’ I was excited for her.”

Ritter no longer has the element of surprise in her favor. Everyone knows what she’s capable of, but she has a way of using that pressure to spur her to even faster speeds.

“I always feel like I hear people behind me,” she said. “That’s what pushes me to be fast. I always hear footsteps or something.”

Ritter is always looking to improve. She has found quality training partners in Alex Dudley and Breanna Luba to push her during practice.

“Alex ran her freshman year and then she came back this year, her junior year,” Ritter said. “She’s really fast. She’ll really push me this year. Breanna too. She’s a really good 400 runner, so she pushes me to run faster.”

Ritter has her name on the record board in multiple spots at Frankenmuth High School. She’d like to do the same in college at GVSU.

“I feel like I can break the 200 record,” she said. “I don’t know about indoor, but I think I can do it outdoor. It’s one of my goals to run a 23-second 200, even if it’s 23.99. Just to hear I ran a 23 would be awesome.”

Dunson thinks Ritter can break several records before her time at GVSU is up.

“I’m confident that with a healthy career she can rewrite the records in the 60, 100 and 200-meter dashes, both indoor and outdoor,” he said. “My expectation and belief is that she will also be a member of future school records in the 4×400 relay, both indoor and outdoor, as well as the 4×100 relay.”

The records won’t fall though, if Ritter can’t keep her legs fresh and her mind mentally engaged over the course of a long meet that could potentially last for over six hours.

“I’m not going to run around for two hours between races,” she said. “I try and find people to talk to. I don’t like sitting by myself and thinking about the races. I like to come visit my parents and talk to them, or talk to my teammates. I don’t like thinking about the races though.”

Ritter is GVSU’s No. 1 sprinting threat because she has learned to block out the things that might slow her down. She has already been to the NCAA Division II National Championships once, and she is primed to make multiple return trips.

“She definitely has the potential to be a national champion and to be an All-American multiple times,” Scott said. “She’s only a sophomore. She’s going to be up there.”