Laker women going for magic number 12

GVL Archive / Andrew Mills
Grand Valley freshmen Amanda Whowell competes in the women

GVL Archive / Andrew Mills Grand Valley freshmen Amanda Whowell competes in the women

Zach Sepanik

Grand Valley State University is famous in the NCAA Division II for its athletic prowess, and though the GVSU women’s track and field team may not be the most talked about sport of the university’s 17 varsity sports, it could be the most dominant.

The GVSU women’s track and field team is shooting for its 12th-straight GLIAC conference championship this weekend when it travels to Saginaw Valley State University. For the Lakers, it is all about depth, and the team uses it to full advantage.

“On the national scene, we are looking pretty strong with where we are sitting in the rankings,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “We have great depth in all our events to go with top caliber athletes in the front. Hopefully at conference, we can get a few more qualifiers for the national meet.”

Senior distance runner Shaylee Vanderbaan said the depth of the team increases the level of competition in the meet.

“We are so deep, so we try to give ourselves some competition by trying to score more points than the boys or by doubling the second place team’s score,” said Vanderbaan, who will compete in the 5K at the conference championships. “The depth is really nice because there will be competition there. And by running or competing with them at practice, we’ll keep getting better because we keep pushing each other.”

Earlier this month, the Lakers hosted the GVSU Big Meet, a meet that several of the women track athletes felt greatly prepared the team for what they would experience at GLIACS.

“We put an emphasis on our Big Meet,” said Ashley Botham, a junior middle-distance runner. “I know we had a lot of national qualifiers come out of it because the meet was one of the first where we faced a lot of Division I competition. Conference will be the next big meet, not so much across the board competition-wise but just in excitement level, and it is something that we take pride in winning.”

After winning 11 consecutive conference championships, Baltes said he tries to keep his team focused by having them aim for more than just first place.

“If we go out and take care of business and compete to the best of our ability, the place will take care of itself,” Baltes said. “Some returning athletes just expect to win or take it for granted. Last year we had great energy as we hosted, but that comes with the fans. We hope to carry it over to SVSU this year and get excited to do big things. We have to try to look at other motivation besides winning, like nationals and setting some records.”

Even though almost all events in track are individual, Botham said the focal point during the season has been on staying together as a cohesive group.

“We tried to focus by keeping everything as a team because it is really easy to get caught up in your event group,” Botham said. “But at the beginning of the season, we made it a goal to branch across the event groups. You can’t win a national championship – or conference championship for that matter – with a bunch of individuals. It has to be a team goal, and in order for it to be a team goal, everyone has to support it.”

Baltes has also noticed something special with this year’s team.

“Across the board, it is the most talented and deepest team we have had,” he said. “We are just going to stay focused on us and take care of our business.”

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