Women clinch 12th-straight GLIAC championship

Freshmen Kristen Hixson participates in the pole vault. Hixson received the GLIAC Feshamn Field Athlete of the Year award.

Andrew Mills

Freshmen Kristen Hixson participates in the pole vault. Hixson received the GLIAC Feshamn Field Athlete of the Year award.

Zach Sepanik

It was just another day at the office for the Grand Valley State University women’s track and field team as the Lakers earned their 12th-consecutive GLIAC indoor championship on Saturday.

The meet was highlighted by nine first-place finishes, a GLIAC Coach of the Year award, a Freshman Field Athlete of the Year award for Kristen Hixson and a conference championship record 238 team points.

“You can tell everyone definitely came to compete and wanted to win,” said senior distance runner Shaylee Vanderbaan. “They were going to give everything they had. The 4×400-meter relay team dropped the baton, but managed to come back and finish second. They didn’t give up. I think winning conference gets everyone pumped up for nationals and is another step along the way.”

On day one, sophomore thrower Sam Lockhart improved her mark in the weight throw and claimed one of five first-place finishes for the Lakers. Junior pole vaulter Jocelyn Kuksa improved her mark with a vault of 12-11 1/2, and senior Sarah Dugan claimed the 5,000-meter run. Freshman sprinter Brittney Jackson took gold in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.77 seconds, and the distance medley relay team ran an automatic-qualifying time of 11 minutes, 39.5 seconds.

“It’s really hard to single out one event group,” said Jerry Baltes, GVSU head coach. “All our events scored quite a few points with numerous conference champions. Of course, you want to run faster and improve your times for the national championships, but you have to score points for the team. All the events did very, very well and helped in the score, the most ever in a GLIAC championship.”

On day two, four more first-place finishes were captured. Junior thrower Lauren Buresh hit the automatic mark in the shot put, and senior sprinter Kayla Vallar won the 400-meter dash in 56.98 seconds. Junior distance runner Chanelle Caldwell captured the 800-meter run, while her fellow distance runner, junior Monica Kinney, won the 3,000-meter run with a time of 9 minutes, 33.21 seconds, a Saginaw Valley State University Ryder Arena record.

“We definitely take pride, especially in the tradition of winning conference, even though it’s not that difficult,” said distance runner Ashley Botham. “Conference is a bigger race, whether it’s super competitive or not, and helps us to race at a high level. It was great to win because we broke our goal of 226 points, and it sets up well for nationals.”

Baltes was also honored with the GLIAC Coach of the Year award.

“I don’t get too caught up in that stuff,” he said. “It’s a nice honor and I appreciate the vote of confidence from my colleagues. It’s really a tribute to the rest of our staff and how much work and time they put into everything.”

Botham said although the team won, the meet was a reminder that the team will have to train hard to clinch a victory at nationals.

“If another team goes out and has an amazing day and we don’t, then we can have our ranking taken from us,” Botham said. “I think the effort that everyone put forth at conference shows we are capable of winning a national championship. We can only control how well we perform.”

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