Track and field Lakers shine in split squad weekend

GVL / Emily Frye      
Wuoi Mach on Friday Jan. 20, 2016.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Wuoi Mach on Friday Jan. 20, 2016.

Jacob Arvidson

Grand Valley State track and field may have been on the road Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 4, but the athletes continued to produce top marks in what was the first away meet of the season for almost all of the Lakers.

Six of the distance runners traveled to South Bend, Indiana for the Notre Dame Meyo Invitational where the two top performances of the weekend occurred. Zach Panning set a GVSU record in the men’s 3,000-meter run and Rachel Walters reached an automatic qualifying mark in the women’s 800-meter run.

Panning continued his breakout sophomore campaign with a fifth place finish in the 3,000 meters. His time of 8:05.19 was just short of the national automatic qualifying mark, but it was enough to surpass teammate Bryce Bradley’s school record time of 8:06.36 set in 2016. Panning now holds the GVSU record in both the 3,000 and the 5,000.

The rest of the team, competing in Hillsdale, Michigan at the Hillsdale Wide Track Classic, didn’t set any records, but showed their team strength. The men took first with 114 points, edging out Indiana Tech (107.5) for the second straight week. The women took first as well with 108.5 points, beating out host Hillsdale (83).

May and Bradley also placed in the event, finishing in 16th and 19th place, respectively, each earning provisional marks.

“For Gina (Patterson) and Chris (May), it was their first meet of 2017, so it was a good rust-buster for them,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “It was great to get these three guys and girls up against some tough competition.”

Walters cruised to a fifth place finish in the 800 with a time of 2:08.41. The mark guarantees her a berth at the upcoming NCAA Division II Indoor National Championship, yet Baltes believes she can run even faster.

“Rachel was outstanding and won her heat by 2 seconds,” he said. “Who knows? Had she been in either of the two faster heats, we may have seen her run an even faster time.”

Kendra Foley narrowly missed an automatic mark in the women’s 3,000-meter run, finishing in 9:33.72 to take 10th place.

“Kendra went out a little aggressive and got caught a little bit,” Baltes said. “It was a tough test because she’s running against the top ladies in college, in the country, and in the world.”

Angela Ritter was competing at Hillsdale, but she too came close to a historic mark. She finished the 60-meter dash in 7.54 seconds to earn a provisional mark, but her best performance came in the 200 where she crossed the line in 24.86 seconds. Due to Hillsdale’s irregular track, her time in the 200 is converted to 24.48 seconds, which puts her top five in Division II this year and just .12 seconds off the GVSU record.

“Angie was pretty pumped about how she ran in the 60,” said sprints and hurdles coach Alan Dunson. “And she is way ahead of where she was at this time last year in the 200.”

Gary Hickman also had a strong outing at the Hillsdale meet. He took first in the men’s 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.03 seconds, good for a provisional mark. The performance broke the Hillsdale Wide Track Classic record in the event.

“Gary has been running well lately,” Dunson said. “In these last three weeks he has run the fastest six times of his life.”

But Dunson said the standout performance of the meet came from Heather Johnson.

The sophomore made her impact in the women’s 4×400-meter relay. The team finished with a converted time of 3:48.86, the seventh fastest time in Division II this season. Johnson however, is not usually a part of the relay. With Walters several hours away in South Bend, Johnson was placed in the relay as a substitute, but there wasn’t much of a difference.

“Heather Johnson is in a completely different world right now,” Dunson said. “She has had a lifetime best every week for the past month. She doesn’t get the accolades of our top runners, but she really stepped up and I’m really proud of her.”

The Lakers return to action in one week as they host the GVSU Big Meet at the Kelly Family Sports Center, a two-day event beginning Friday, Feb. 10.