Pair of GVSU runners awarded GLIAC cross country honors

Courtesy / A. Steible

Courtesy / A. Steible

Jerod Fattal

Zach Panning and Sarah Berger were crowned GLIAC Runners of the Year following the conclusion of the 2018 GLIAC cross country season on Nov. 3. If you asked the two about what this accomplishment means to them, though, it becomes apparent what type of teammates they are.

“It’s obviously really cool to win,” Berger said. “But even more importantly is bringing home the team win and finishing as the top one through four runners was really fun for our team.”  

Panning had a similar mindset, and is more proud of his team’s winning streak than his own personal accomplishments.

“It means much more to me that we got it done as a team honestly,” Panning said. “Keeping our winning streak alive at the meet was special.”

Despite Berger’s laundry list of accolades, including 2018 Cross Country National Champion, 2017 Cross Country National Runner-Up and 11 total All-American awards, it is her off-the-course character that truly impresses head coach Jerry Baltes. 

“She’s a first class individual who does everything the right way and she is a competitor as well,” Baltes said. “She does that while going through grad school on top of it all.”

In the meantime, Panning has compiled quite a list of awards as well, including 2017 Cross Country National Runner-Up, three All-American awards and four first team all-GLIAC honors. 

Similar to Berger, Panning’s leadership cannot be measured solely with a stopwatch. 

“Zach is one of the best leaders I have seen in my 20 years here at Grand Valley,” Baltes said. “He’s a great role model that leads by example and he holds his teammates accountable.”

Panning and Berger have amassed quite a trophy case during their careers as student athletes, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the two. 

Three years ago, Panning was forced to sit out of the national championship meet due to a leg injury, an setback that took him an entire off-season to return from. 

“Not being able to go out on a run with the guys was tough,” Panning said. “I try not to take it for granted anymore and I have made it a point to come to practice excited every day, because it truly is a privilege.” 

Elsewhere, Berger had an interesting come-up to running, as she wasn’t even running cross country in her early college years. Instead, she was playing soccer for Walsh University.

“I really just love spending time with my teammates and coaches,” Berger said. 

With conference meets wrapping up and nationals less than one month away, both of their future goals are reflected by their team’s aspirations.  

“I just want to continue to grow as a leader to the rest of our guys so that we can be at our best when the time comes,” Panning said. “We would like to win the national championship and bring it home. It really is the sole goal of our team.” 

Before worrying about nationals, Panning, Berger and the cross country teams look to shine at regionals in Hillsdale on Saturday, Nov. 17. The men’s meet will begin at 10:30 am, and the women will immediately follow at 11:45 a.m.