Cross country teams chase national title

GVSU mens cross country runners Robbie Young, Christopher Pabst, and Grant Fall stick together during the Aquinas Open last Friday.  The meet was held at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids.

Jaslyn Gilbert

GVSU men’s cross country runners Robbie Young, Christopher Pabst, and Grant Fall stick together during the Aquinas Open last Friday. The meet was held at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids.

Curtis Kalleward

Last season, the Grand Valley State University men’s and women’s cross country teams placed fifth and second respectively at the NCAA National Championship meet. After finishing so close to the ultimate goal, the runners return this season hungrier and more prepared than ever.

“We’re hopeful that we can improve on last year’s results,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “Both teams have set goals to beat, the biggest of which is to challenge for the National Championship. Hopefully, we’ll get that far.”

In last week’s Division II preseason poll, both teams retained the same rank they had finished with in the previous season.

“In order to get each team to reach the No. 1 national ranking, we have to keep getting better and do that every day,” Baltes said. “We’re going to keep working hard, and hopefully it will pay off.”

Adams State College, however, enters the preseason ranked No. 1 as both men and women will look to continue their run of dominance at the national level.

“The teams we’re competing against are among the best in the country,” said junior Jeff Nordquist. “A lot of Adams State’s athletes become professional runners with contracts after college. It’s going to be really difficult to try and beat them, but we have a great coaching staff and we bring back some All-Americans. We’ve matured a lot in the past year, and we’re not settling for fifth place again this year.”

Women aim for top national spot

A second-place finish at the 2009 national meet was hard to swallow for the Lakers, who entered the event ranked No. 1 in the nation. Nonetheless, the team’s hard work helped it earn the Division II Women’s Program of the Year Award for a second consecutive year.

“We are thrilled and honored to achieve this accomplishment for the second year in a row for our women,” Baltes said upon receiving the award. “We take great pride in having quality student-athletes in each event area in order for us to compete at a high level in all three seasons.”

The 2009 season marked the second straight year in which the Lakers claimed the No. 1 ranking, and the women are ready to take it again.

“It was a really big deal to say that, between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, we were the best program,” Baltes said. “The next step is to win a national championship in all three. If we can do that, there will be no doubt about us being the best in the country.”

Junior captain Rebecca Winchester, who redshirted last season, said the team focuses on the small things in order to finish the year atop the rankings.

“We need to do better at finishing out the races, especially the last kilometer,” she said. “We’re always pulled together (with the other teams) until the end, and that’s when they get the edge on us. Some girls have been doing higher mileage in training, which should help us.”

Baltes said though Ferris State University poses the biggest challenge to the Laker streak of nine straight GLIAC championships, his focus is on what his team needs to do to improve.

“We don’t focus too much on anyone else in the conference,” Baltes said. “We just focus on ourselves.”

Men look to rebound from rebuilding year

The young men’s squad returns several key runners from last year’s team, which finished fifth at the national meet.

Leading the charge will be junior Tyler Emmorey, whose 2009 efforts garnered him several individual accolades, including GLIAC Runner of the Year, Midwest Region Men’s Athlete of the Year and All-American honors.

“Tyler Emmorey was our leader on the men’s team last year,” Baltes said. “He finished 14th overall in the country and was All-American in the track season, so we’re going to look for him to keep doing what he’s doing. Hopefully, we’ll have two or three other guys that are able to step up and run for us.”

However, not every runner will enter the season using the same strategy.

“A well-said quote on our team goes, ‘If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you always got,’” said freshman Jimmy McKeiver. “To get to the No. 1 ranking, we’re going to have to change some stuff up. Some of the guys have changed up their workouts and bumped up their mileage trying to get better.”

Looking ahead, the Lakers will face their usual competitors in GLIAC competition, and the team feels that a ninth straight regional title is more within reach.

“I expect us to win the National Championship,” McKeiver said. “That’s what the goal is and that’s what we always strive for. All of our competition graduated their top guys and we’re still young. We only graduated one of our top seven runners, so if we go to the National Championship, we should have a good shot at it.”

Nordquist echoed his teammate’s sentiments, adding that it would take a group effort to claim victory.

“To be No. 1, it’s going to take willpower,” he said. “We were young last year, and this year we’re bringing back almost everyone. We got a lot of experience at the national meet, and I feel like that will help us to get on the podium.”

[email protected]