GVSU cruises to GLIAC outdoor track conference championship

GVL / Luke Holmes - Michaila Lawcock competes at the Al Owens Classic was held outside at Grand Valley’s campus Saturday, April 22, 2016.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – Michaila Lawcock competes at the Al Owens Classic was held outside at Grand Valley’s campus Saturday, April 22, 2016.

Jacob Arvidson

The Grand Valley State track and field teams comfortably swept the 2016 GLIAC Outdoor Championships hosted by Ferris State University from May 4-6.

The Laker men finished with 183.5 points, beating out Tiffin (155) to claim their third straight GLIAC title. The women gathered 183.5 points over the course of the three-day meet, finishing ahead of Hillsdale (110.1) to win their 17th consecutive GLIAC crown.

“The team fought for every little bit and when things didn’t go our way, we were able to refocus on the next event and fight for every point,” said GVSU senior Darien Thornton. “The team showed a lot of heart this weekend.”

Seniors like Thornton get to leave GLIAC competition on a high note.

“It means everything to win the conference title my last year,” Thornton said. “Since the tradition of winning (the GLIAC) is pretty strong, you never want to be the senior class that doesn’t end up winning.”

The men hit 13 provisional qualifying marks to go along with one automatic mark, and the women hit 23 provisional marks, including a GVSU record in the 200-meter dash.

“It’s one of my goals to run a 23-second 200, even if it’s 23.99,” said sophomore Angie Ritter in a December 2015 interview. “Just to hear I ran a 23 would be awesome.”

She reached that goal in the 200-meter dash preliminary race on May 5.

Ritter’s pace blew away the rest of the competition. She crossed the line in 23.87 seconds, easily beating out Ashland’s Lauren Ellsworth (24.42). Ritter’s mark broke Kalena Franklin’s time of 24.07 seconds set in 2014. Ritter went on to finish first in the 200-meter dash finals with a time of 24.63.

“It’s a feeling that can’t be explained,” Ritter said. “Honestly, I had no idea I had that in me. The weather was perfect, so that helped, but the competition was even better and I knew I had to show up to defend my titles from last year. I feel like I took it for granted in the moment, but now looking back, I’m so grateful for everyone that helped get me there. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Thornton’s hammer throw was the highlight on the men’s side. His heave of 67.9 meters took first place and earned him yet another automatic qualifying mark in the event, but Thornton knows he can throw much farther.

“It gives me a lot of confidence that I can have an off day and still throw an automatic qualifying mark,” he said. “It gives me that confidence to know I will be able to take a crack at the national meet record in three weeks.”

GVSU’s women’s pole vault team took first, second, third and fifth, with all four Lakers earning provisional marks. Jaime Roberts took first by clearing the bar at 3.98 meters, followed by Krista Nauseda (3.88), Whitney Bice (3.73) and Skylar Schoen (3.73).

The women’s 400-meter hurdles produced two strong performances by GVSU. Jessica O’Connell took second with a personal best of 1:00.53 to earn a provisional mark. Eskolunbe Puente finished fifth and earned a provisional mark as well.

Sean Wells took first in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, cruising to victory in 14.12 seconds to earn a provisional mark.

No provisional marks were reached in the men’s 5,000-meter run, but the Lakers still took three of the top four spots. Zach Panning edged out teammate Bryce Bradley to take first with a time of 14:49.77. Bradley took second (14:50.31) and Chris May took fourth (14:54.82).

Ethan Barnes took first place in the men’s 800-meter run with a time of 1:54.15. The time wasn’t enough for a provisional mark, but that wasn’t a concern for Barnes.

“Each race plan looks a little bit different,” he said. “The race plan this week was simply to go and win, so I was not concerned with the time. The goal was to stay as fresh as possible in case I was needed for the 4×400.”

The Lakers will head home to host the GVSU Last Chance Meet from May 13-14 as a few athletes try to earn a last-second spot at the national meet. The NCAA Division II National Championships will be held May 26-28 in Bradenton, Florida, hosted by the University of Tampa.