Indoor T&F teams aim to fortify powerhouse

Tate Baker

It seems every new season presents a new opportunity to win a national championship for the title-hungry program belonging to Grand Valley State University and its cross country and track and field head coach, Jerry Baltes.

Baltes, who most recently guided the women’s cross country team to a national title in the fall, will now look to lead the men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams into the winter months with more than enough athleticism to improve on a pair of fourth-place finishes at nationals in 2013.

His Lakers know they’ll have to work for it.

“We are strong in really all areas this season,” Baltes said. “It will be interesting to see how our talent comes together. We have set a standard here; it’s up to our coaches and the athletes to put themselves into a position to continue the same successes that we have had in the past.”

The men’s and women’s teams are both off to a fast start after opening the season with a pair of first-place finishes.

The GVSU men won the Laker Early Bird invite on Dec. 6 with a total score of 133 points, and the Laker women also took home first-place honors with a score of 133.5.

“Both teams have felt comfortable at home,” Baltes said. “You always want to get off to a good start early in the season, and that’s exactly what both teams have done thus far.”

The Lakers also felt right at home in the GVSU Holiday Open on Dec. 13 with another pair of first-place finishes. The big day was highlighted by two sophomores on the men’s team who recorded a pair of school records.

Thrower Darien Thornton was ready to show he had been putting in the offseason work by raising some eyebrows in the weight toss with a throw that traveled 20.60 meters, which was good enough to break his own mark set in 2013.

“Nationals is obviously the big picture for us,” Thornton said. “If we can hit all of our goals up until that point and keep improving daily, we can put ourselves in a good position to do great things.”

Distance runner Ethan Barnes also turned in a nice performance by matching his 1:49.98 mark in the 800 meter run.

The Laker women followed suit and turned in a number of provisional qualifying marks on their way to a 147-point total.

“We have been concentrating on our preparation for each and every meet this season, (and) that’s really our overall goal, to stay focused,” senior sprinter Kalena Franklin said. “Our focus was there for those first couple of meets. I’m sure that same type of focus is what will drive us through the season.”

The year-to-year attention to detail has not been an issue for the program, especially when it comes to defending its conference championships.

The perennial winning machine seems to be getting better every season, perhaps because of motivated student athletes like Franklin who have the resolve to improve every day.

“It’s our mission to keep winning conference championships and to stay on top of the GLIAC,” she said. “However, we can’t become complacent. We have to keep striving to becoming better each and every practice. I want this year to be the best year (Grand Valley) has had in a long time.”

GVSU will hit the track next while hosting the Bob Eubanks Open on Friday at 10 a.m. and on Saturday at 9 a.m.