Track and field sets school records, automatic qualifying marks at GVSU Big Meet

Rachael Walters breaks record at GVSU Big Meet.

Jacob Arvidson

Rachael Walters breaks record at GVSU Big Meet.

Jacob Arvidson

Two full days of track and field— sprinting, jumping, hurdling throwing from dawn to dusk— that’s the Grand Valley State Big Meet.

With so many events going on, it can be easy to miss an inspiring performance. But GVSU middle-distance star Rachael Walters gave the world a hint at what to focus on earlier in the week.

“Something special is going to happen in the relays,” said the redshirt sophomore on Tuesday.

And something special did happen. In fact, something special happened in all four relays.

“You have to find time and places during the season to get those done,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “The 4×400 is at the end of the meet, so you’re usually running those tired. We put a little more emphasis on that this week and had a couple kids fresh and didn’t race them before, but then we also had a couple kids that did run before and still came up and did great things.”

The women posted automatic qualifying marks in both the distance medley relay and the 4×400-meter relay, with the 4×400 team setting a new GVSU record.

Chant’e Roberts took the baton out of the blocks, running a speedy first lap for the Lakers. Southwest Baptist’s Armani Battle gained a lead on Roberts over the 400 meters, but Roberts was able to close the gap significantly down the home stretch.

“I knew off my experience of 4×400 relays that the first person really matters to set the tone,” Roberts said. “For me to still fight and hold on, although I didn’t take first, I was still able to stay in range. I knew that was enough to still get everyone else fired up to go for it.”

Roberts passed the baton the Walters, who took off, immediately passing Southwest Baptist and establishing a significant 10-meter lead for GVSU.

The Lakers still had a large cushion between themselves and second place when Jessica O’Connell got the baton from Walters for the third leg. The junior didn’t let off the gas pedal whatsoever, holding the same lead Walters had established for the entirety of her 400 meters.

“I was expecting Rachael to come in hot, and she delivered, for sure,” O’Connell said. “I just tried to take the moment and run with it. I was running kind of scared. I knew I didn’t want to feel anyone come up behind me.”

O’Connell never had to feel someone coming up behind her, but Angela Ritter did. Ritter got the baton for the anchor leg of the relay, but GVSU’s comfortable lead quickly shrank to nothing as Southwest Baptist’s Mary Bergman took 300 meters to close Ritter down and set up a wild sprint for the finish.

“I didn’t know until (Bergman’s) coach was yelling,” Ritter said. “Then I felt her on my shoulder and I realized. Thankfully, I had a lot left in me. If I had known she was there I think I could have run faster, but I’m still happy.”

Ritter is one of the fastest 60-meter sprinters in Division II, but Bergman gave her all she could handle. In the end, Ritter’s closing speed was enough to hold off Bergman, giving GVSU the second-fastest time in Division II this year and a new school record at 3:43.09.

“I didn’t realize what the auto was in the 4×400 relay, so that’s cool to have two autos in less than a week,” said Walters, who got the first automatic qualifying mark of her career just six days earlier in the 800-meter run.

Walters and Ritter returned for the distance medley relay and reached another automatic mark. The DMR consists of a 1,200, a 400, an 800 and finally a 1,600. Rachel Bendewald ran the first leg, followed by Ritter, Walters and Kendra Foley. Their time of 11:32.28 is the third-fastest time in the event in Division II this season.

On the men’s side of the relays, there may not have been any automatic qualifiers, but there was a GVSU record and two top 10 Division II times.

The men’s DMR team of Joe Renner, TJ Burnett, David Jones and Wuoi Mach finished in 9:49.49 to take home a new GVSU record. The time was two seconds short of an automatic qualifier, but is the ninth best time in Division II.

“The guys, getting the school record, had four very strong legs after losing a couple kids to injury this week,” Baltes said.

The men’s 4×400 had a tough act to follow, running immediately after the women broke the school record, but they too had a strong relay. The team of TJ Burnett, Thomas Capers, Chaz Porter and Jaylin Golson finished in 3:14.20 to earn a provisional mark, putting them eighth in Division II.

The relay teams were not the only ones who sported big days for the Lakers. Numerous GVSU athletes earned provisional qualifying marks, highlighted by Hunter Weeks’ 2.10-meter leap in the high jump and Nate Orndorf’s 14:28.93 time in the 5,000. But outside of the relays, the clear standout was Kyra Hull.

Hull, a senior, threw 20.07 meters in the weight throw, the first time she has reached the 20-meter threshold in her career. The mark further cements her automatic qualifier from a few weeks ago and puts her top five in Division II.

“The last two meets were kind of bad for me,” Hull said. “At Findlay I was only throwing 18 meters and at Hillsdale I was only throwing 17. I was like, ‘Come on. We only have a few more meets. Come on Kyra, you have to do it.’ So to be here, and be at home, I’m thankfully and happy that I at least had a consistent set of throws and I finally hit 20 meters.”

The Lakers return to action at home in the Kelly Family Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 17 for the GVSU Tune-Up Meet as they prepare for the GLIAC Championships the following week.