GVSU men’s track & field and cross country receives Program of the Year award

Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

Jerod Fattal

The Grand Valley State men’s track and field and cross country recently won the 2017-18 U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Program of the Year Award at the organization’s annual convention in San Antonio, Texas.

The Lakers won the award after they finished second by scoring a Division II low 13.5 points at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships and a pair of top six finishes at both the Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships in the past year.

The past four years, GVSU finished second to Adams State in the Damon Martin Division II Men’s Program of the Year award, so it was only a matter of time before the Jerry Baltes led program finally won the award.

“There was a lot of hard work from student athletes not only this year, but over (prior) years,” Baltes said.

One of the reasons the running program Baltes has formed has been successful is because the Lakers focus on the sometimes monotonous “process” of practice, instead of just the races. Not only do they focus on the “process”, but the program also puts more of a focus on the person, rather than simply the time on a stopwatch.

“The human being is far more important than the results,” Baltes said. “You have to find greater purpose and stay committed to that purpose for the team.”

As a result of their success, GVSU has become a staple across the country of how running programs should develop their runners both physically and mentally, but that hasn’t stopped Baltes from continuing to try and learn from others. The constant tweaks and improvements to their philosophy has been critical to their long-term success.

“We try and take bits and pieces from other programs, coaches and systems and try to mold it into our program within our resources,” Baltes said. “You have to stay grounded,”

The GVSU running program’s culture is one built on teamwork. When the racers toe the line, they are expected to race for a greater purpose than themselves and the student athletes have bought into that mantra.

“We have probably 40 unsung heroes who have helped develop what we have here,” Baltes said. “(They) competed not just for themselves but for the greater good of the team.”

Receiving the USTFCCCA Program of the Year Award was a great honor for the both the men’s track and field and cross country teams, but the program is already looking to build on last year’s accolades with another successful calendar year in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.

During one of their first indoor track and field practices after winning the award, it looked like business as usual for a team who “focuses on the day-to-day process.”

Both of the track teams will look to compete for a national title at nationals. “First and foremost, our goal is to compete for a GLIAC championship,” Baltes said.

As for the cross country team, they will also look to win the GLIAC and build on last year’s runner-up finish at nationals. However, they will have to replace All-American Zach Panning to do so.

“They will be hard shoes to fill. You can’t go to the grocery store and buy another Zach Panning like a pack of Doritos,” Baltes continued. “We will (retool) by committee and we also have two redshirt freshman returning in our top five with Tanner Chada and Ben Zaremba.”

Whether or not they win the GLIAC, Baltes knows that one thing is for certain.

“(We are) going to work hard everyday and get better, little by little.”