After breaking the Division II record, the GV Track and Field medley relay teams looks forward to upcoming tournaments


Courtesy of GVSU Athletics

Holly Bihlman, Staff Writer

As the Grand Valley State University track and field team travel to Saginaw Valley University to compete on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28 in the GLIAC Tournament, a few of the runners are still celebrating a record-breaking weekend at the Big Meet three weeks ago. While the women’s medley relay team finished with a GVSU and Kelly Family Sports Center with a record-breaking time of 11.21.12, the men’s team broke the same two records with a time of 9.39.38. It also broke the previous National Division II record of 9.40.15. 

The runners that solidified their spots in National’s for the medley relay were Dennis Mbuta, John Groendyk, Caleb Futter, and Jackson Blanchard who will be competing in their own events at the GLIAC Tournament but will come back together to run their now-famous medley race next weekend at Nationals. To find out that they had broken the Kelly Family Sports Center and GVSU record came as no surprise to the guys. When Mbuta looked up the National DII record as Futter was finishing the last seconds of his mile, and saw that they had gone under the time, they were in complete shock. 

“Honestly, I didn’t even know that we could break the record, I just went there to run,” Blanchard said. “I had no idea that we would be that close to the record, let alone break it.”  

The runners had all completed their parts of the relay and were watching the clock intently as Futter ran the last leg of the race. Once the clock stopped, they all got a wave of excitement and motivation for the GLIAC and National tournaments. 

“It was a massive shocker, but it was a good shocker,” Groendyk said. “And then to see the girls do as well as they did on top of our team doing as well as they did, I think there was just motivation and a general sense of positivity and bewilderment and awe of what we just did.” 

Just a few days before the race, Blanchard, the only short sprinter on the relay team, was told he’d be racing with the three distance runners. Since the team practices in groups based on the events they run, Blanchard had hardly met any of the distance runners on top of the fact that he had transferred from Central Michigan University this year. They practiced handing off the baton a few times before the Big Meet and ended up being the perfect combination of runners for the relay race. 

“I give all the credit to the 1200 runner, the 800 runner, and the miler,” Blanchard said. “They put in the work and they got us in the position that we needed to be successful in for that race and they did a really, really, really good job.”

The guys had no idea what kind of history they would be making together after just one practice run, but their teamwork and love for the sport are what got them the surprise record. Now that the focus is on their upcoming tournaments. Their team goal is to keep the success going, especially after last year’s heartbreaking trip home from Birmingham, Alabama in the middle of the first COVID-19 shutdown. 

“We were just so ecstatic, and people were like, ‘yeah, we haven’t been this excited and pumped in a long time,’” Futter said. “Especially with that DMR, we’ve all just been stoked, and like, ‘this is the year.’”

For fifth-year distance runner Mbuta, the stakes are even higher after his last chance at bringing home a trophy for GVSU was robbed at the hands of COVID-19. 

“At the beginning of this year our biggest thing was to make a team that could compete for first place,” Mbuta said. “I feel like we have the best combination that we could ask for.” 

The team goal is to come back from the GLAIC Tournament with a first place trophy, and considering GVSU is ranked number one in the GLIAC standings going into this weekend, the guys are feeling extra confident and pumped up for their redemption. 

“It gave us all some motivation to train extra hard,” Groendyk said. “We’re going in with high expectations. We’re hoping that we can win the GLIACs but I think it’s going to be on everyone to take care of business and to look at their event as just important as everyone else’s.” 

Their top competitor at the GLIACs in Ashland, but they’re all feeling like this year they could take home the first-place title if they all focus on their individual events and save some of their energy for Nationals. With that being said, their number one goal across the team is to secure the win both weekends.

“I think team-wise, it’s always to come out with a trophy,” Mbuta said. “I think for most of us, it’s to come out of the conference as healthy as possible. Ultimately the goal for Nationals is to be ready to compete.” 

A tough feat for any track and field runner is to be prepared for three events in one weekend, which Mbuta has done before in past tournaments. Saving strength and energy for all of the different events is a crucial step forward in winning the title. Despite these challenges and top competitors, GVSU’s track and field team has a great history of making history, and with the success of the Big Meet weekend, they’re even more ready to redeem themselves from last year’s National meet. 

With Mbuta graduating after this semester, juniors Blanchard and Groendyk will continue running next year alongside freshman Futter. They plan to carry on their legacy into the coming season. 

“We’d love to break it again,” Groendyk said. “I don’t know how to phrase it any other way.” 

The track and field teams will go back to Birmingham, Ala. March 11-13 to compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships after 365 days since their last trip to the final event in their season. With all their excitement to be back and competing again at the national level, the Lakers are hoping will bring home their 23rd National Championship title.