Men’s, women’s track and field rank No. 1 in preseason

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Sean Wells

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Sean Wells

Jacob Arvidson

The Grand Valley State men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams are both ranked No. 1 in the country in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association preseason rankings. The Lakers are ready to prove the voters right.

“Expectations for the team are always high for both the indoor and outdoor seasons,” said women’s senior pole vaulter Jaime Roberts. “We plan to live up to those expectations and take home another GLIAC championship.”

In recent years, Ashland has been GVSU’s biggest GLIAC challenge. The Laker women have won 16 consecutive GLIAC titles, while the men have captured six straight. But this year, a new school might threaten the Lakers’ reign, said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes.

“Ashland graduated a lot of seniors so they might take a step back,” he said. “Tiffin has a lot of good talent this year and could really challenge us.”

With that said, Baltes feels GVSU can go even further than winning a GLIAC title.

“We feel both squads can be podium teams at the NCAA championship,” he said.

In order to live up to these high expectations, both the men’s and the women’s teams will need key student-athletes to perform in clutch situations.

“Hopefully we will have a lot of individuals step up and be positive leaders,” Baltes said. “We look for everyone to lead in a different way whether by example, encouragement or vocally. Everyone can have an impact on a teammate to make our program better as a whole.”

Sean Wells and Amy Cymerman reached the top of their respected fields during last year’s indoor season. Wells became national champion in the 60-meter hurdles, while Cymerman snagged the same honor in the 5,000-meter run. Both are returning seniors, and figure to be important to GVSU’s success.

In addition to Wells and Cymerman, senior Darien Thornton will be a major player in the throwing events for the men, and sophomore Angela Ritter is ready to do some great things as a sprinter for the women, Baltes said.

Ritter won GLIAC Freshman of the Year last season.

“She is an excellent athlete that will surely capture the fan’s attention with her performances,” Roberts said.

GVSU has been projected to do well this season, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers are unbeatable. However, the consistent improvement and past history of a success make GVSU as dangerous a team as any in 2015.

“There is always room for improvement and that is what makes this sport great,” Roberts said. “There is no limit to your success. As a team, everyone in any event group can improve to help our team be more successful.”

Points can come from anywhere when GVSU steps on the track. The all-around threat makes the Lakers a preseason favorite.

“We are very well-balanced across the board,” Baltes said. “I think our team strength is that we are strong in all of our events.”

On the women’s side, pole vaulting looks to be a major point of production this season.

“Grand Valley women’s pole vaulting is returning five upperclassmen,” Roberts said. “All five reached provisional marks for nationals last year, as well as placing top three at the GLIACs for the indoor and outdoor seasons.”

On the men’s side, Thornton and the throwers will be a big source of points.

“Throwers scored the most points for us last year at the national meet,” Baltes said. “And if you’re going to highlight one person it’d be Sean (Wells) in the hurdles. He’s the defending national champion. But our points are going to come from all over. We try not to single out one group as the best. Like I said, our team is very balanced.”

There is always the welcome possibility that a freshman will step up to score big points for the team.

“Breanna Luba is a sophomore hurdler who, as a freshman, qualified for nationals and will continue to score us points,” Roberts said. “Every member has put in the hours of work to improve. Anyone is capable of achieving a breakout year across the event groups.”

Baltes didn’t give any names, but freshmen from both the men’s and women’s teams have his attention.

“Many have looked good through the fall training phase,” he said. “Now, it will be their time to show what they can do against competition. We have a lot of student-athletes ready to make a big step forward. We will have a better idea after the first meet who has put the time in throughout the summer and preseason to be ready to take their competition to another level.”

GVSU will explode out of the blocks for the first time this season on Friday in the GVSU Holiday Open. The meet begins at 3 p.m. in the Kelly Family Sports Center on GVSU’s Allendale Campus.