Lakers finish 3rd, 7th as NCAA T&F hosts

GVSU senior Kristen Hixson pole vaults at the NCAA Division II Track & Field Championship.

GVL/Marissa Dillon

GVSU senior Kristen Hixson pole vaults at the NCAA Division II Track & Field Championship.

Jay Bushen

With home fans cheering and her friends, family, coaches and teammates looking on, Grand Valley State University senior Kristen Hixson had one final opportunity to cement her name in program history.

Hixson, a pole-vaulting record holder and two-time national champion, felt she still had plenty to prove at the NCAA Division II Track & Field Championship (May 22-24) in Allendale. She already had the decorated resume of a champion, but true champions are rarely satisfied with past accomplishments.

The Remus, Mich. native was in pursuit of something that had never been done before at the Division II level. She wanted to set the bar high — specifically, at the ever-elusive 4.50-meter mark.

“I had been attempting 4.50 for the past couple of meets,” she said. “I had been really close and I started to get a little frustrated that I hadn’t cleared it. I never had three good, clean attempts at it — something would always go wrong.

“I knew I needed to have three good attempts, and the first two attempts were good not makes — but good attempts. Then I said, ‘This is it, this is my last chance, this is my last jump at GVSU.’”

Her perseverance paid off.

Hixson’s final vault not only set a new facility and GVSU record, but also an NCAA Division II Outdoor women’s pole vault record. It was the eighth-best women’s pole vault in the world this year.

“It was very emotional,” she said. “I remember falling down, looking at the bar and making sure that it wasn’t falling with me. When I realized that I hit it, I started crying immediately and my teammates ran up to me. I don’t want to say it was a relief, it wasn’t, but it was more of a ‘finally.’ I can’t describe how my heart felt at that moment.”

The championship feat provided the No. 1 Laker women with 10 points on day one, but it proved to be the only first-place performance for either GVSU squad.

The GVSU women led all teams through two days of action, but finished with 53 points and were ultimately passed by two teams on day three. Lincoln University (Mo.) claimed the national crown with 64 points, while Johnson C. Smith University came away in second place with 59.

Meanwhile, St. Augustine’s University won the national championship on the men’s side in convincing fashion after racking up 112 points — 45 more than runner-up Adams State University. The No. 7 Laker men finished seventh with 30.50 points.

“Our ambition, our goal is to be in the mix and have a shot,” GVSU coach Jerry Baltes said. “We’re very pleased and proud of our student-athletes. We were shooting for a little bit higher, but third and seventh place finishes are outstanding.”

The Laker teams came into the meet with high expectations after qualifying the most individual entries on the women’s side (26) and the second-most on the men’s side (17).

The end result may have been somewhat anticlimactic, but GVSU still finished as one of just three schools to garner a pair of top-seven finishes along with Adams State (second, fourth) and Ashland University (third, fifth).

“We came in knowing that, on paper, we were ranked to win,” senior sprinter Kalena Franklin said. “We were ranked number one, but we were also number one for indoor nationals (and finished fourth). We didn’t want to take it for granted, we were pretty quiet about it and everyone was focused.”

Franklin closed out her impressive career with two All-American honors on day three. She took fifth place in the 100 meter hurdles while tying her GVSU-record time of 13.41 seconds before anchoring the women’s 4×4 meter relay team to an eighth-place finish (3:43.13).

GVSU also had top-five performances from sophomore Darien Thornton (second place – hammer throw), junior Bret Myers (second – pole vault), junior Jessica Janecke (third – 10,000 meter run), senior Hannah Osborn (third – steeplechase), junior Allyson Winchester (third – 5,000 meter run), freshman Kendra Foley (fifth – 5,000 meter run), junior Trent Chappell (fifth – high jump), junior Jennifer Schornak (fifth – pole vault), sophomore Laura Schroeder (fifth – hammer throw), sophomore Ethan Barnes (fifth – 800 meter run), and the women’s 4×100 meter relay team (fifth).

The event, which returns to Allendale in 2015, certainly seemed to be a successful one for Baltes’ program. About 200 people volunteered to help out for the occasion, and — with plenty of sunshine and warm weather — it was an enjoyable meet for those in attendance.

“The success of the weekend is due to the incredible support of all the volunteers and officials who gave their time over the course of the week, and the championship meet,” Baltes said. “In addition there is no way the meet would have been the success it was without the leadership of our athletic administration and the different departments especially Tim Nott and Sports Information, Mark Stoessner, Matt Herrema and the entire Athletic Training Staff, Dan Glowinski and the ticket staff.

“These last four people were the backbone of the championship and deserve all the credit for making this an incredible event: Keri Becker, Steve Jones, Jamie Schlagel, and Chelsea Brehm. They were incredible from start to finish.

“We in the GVSU track and field department want to send our sincere appreciation to everyone that came out to help and support the Championship and our squads.”

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