Men’s Track and Field takes NCAA DII Outdoor National Championship title

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GVSU Athletics

The men’s team holds up their trophy at the GVSU Lacrosse/Track and Field Stadium as DII National Champions for the first time.

Holly Bihlman, Sports Editor

For the first time in Grand Valley State University history, the men’s track and field team took the Outdoor National Championship title with a total of 76 points and a 21-point lead over runner-up West Texas A&M University. The GVSU women’s team took second place just four points behind Azusa Pacific University with a final tally of 77 points. Over the three-day competition, there were 27 podium appearances between the men’s and women’s teams, with three Lakers taking home individual titles.

On May 27, junior Judith Essemiah took the first individual title of the weekend in the hammer throw event by marking a distance of 62.62m. Angelica Floyd, Marcedes Chandler, Nicole Sreenan and Ashley Perryman took first in the preliminary women’s 400×100, giving them the chance to compete for the final on May 29.

Senior Elli Kimes took runner-up in the pole vault event with a score of 4.15, followed by qualifying preliminary finishes for several other Laker women and men. One of these included an exhilarating runner-up finish from senior Issac Harding in the 10,000m.

“I think across the board we were pretty solid today,” said coach Jerry Baltes. “Judith winning was, of course, a great performance and Issac put together a great race in the 10k; again, it just came up short. Elli Kimes has been nursing a sprained wrist and for her to come out and finish runner-up was outstanding.”

After Thursday’s events, the Lakers had another few select performances on Friday, May 28 that bumped up their points. Both 3,000m steeplechase races were completed with runner-up finishes on the men’s and women’s teams from sophomore Hannah Roeske and freshman Caleb Futter respectively.

On May 29, the last day of the competition, the men jumped up to first place with Harding’s outstanding individual title win in the 5,000m race with a time of 14:13.78. In both the 10,000m and the 5,000m, his teammates Tanner Chada and Eneal Woldemicheal were right behind him, standing up on the podium with Harding both times.

“It’s all got to come together from a team perspective and each person that’s competing has to focus on their own competition,” Harding said. “It’s cool to be on the podium, but it’s really cool to be on the there with two of my teammates who I’ve been training with the last year.”

On the final day for the women’s team, junior Nicole Sreenan won the individual title in the 400m with a time of 53.48 followed by the women’s 400×100 team taking first place in the finals for the national title. At the end of Saturday, the Lakers were in celebration over their home turf successes.

Baltes, after being awarded his 61st Midwest Coach of the Year mention from the Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, led the men’s team to a best program finish in his 22-years of coaching at GVSU. To win the title at home makes the victory even sweeter.

“We’re just trying to embrace being at home and find the positives of being at home like sleeping in our own beds and hopefully having family, friends, teammates cheer us on,” Baltes said. “Our kids are motivated and to be able to have a shot to win on our home turf is huge.”

With the added benefit of practicing and training in Michigan weather all year, the Lakers used everything they could to their advantage and looked at their home track and field hosting as a positive. With the benefit of having an extra set of quarantine time to train, it certainly paid off for the Lakers.

“It’s pretty easy to get excited and nervous for Nationals, so I feel like being at home kind of helped me stay a little bit more calm,” Harding said. “I’ve been really, really happy with the training that I’ve been putting in the last year. It’s really built on itself over time and it’s definitely paid off for me.”

With a fantastic end to the 2020-21 track and field season, the Lakers proved their strength and determination through an exceptional amount of adversity together, coming out on top for the men’s side with an outstanding runner-up finish on the women’s side.