GV cross country looks to remain on top of GLIAC for 2021 season


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Justice Steiner, Staff Writer

After having the 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19, the Grand Valley State University cross country team will be competing this fall for the first time in nearly two years. The last time the men’s and women’s teams took the course in the 2019 season, both were GLIAC and NCAA Regional Champions. However, at the NCAA National Championships, the teams fell just short, where the women’s team placed second and the men’s placed fourth.

GLIAC titles are nothing new to the Laker’s cross country teams. Since 2002, both the men’s and women’s teams have been GLIAC champions every season. A key component to this success is head coach Jerry Baltes, who is heading into his 23rd season with the GVSU cross country team. Baltes has made sure to keep both the men’s and women’s teams ready, despite not having a competitive season last fall.

“We trained all year round,” Baltes said. “We didn’t have a competitive season, but we still had practice all fall and all of our distance runners are on the track and field team, so they all had the competitive experience of the Indoor Track Championships, where women won the NCAA Championship and outdoors where the men won the NCAA Championships. It’s not like they haven’t done anything since March of 2020.”

Coach Baltes has constructed an impressive resume in his time at GVSU. He has a total of seven cross country national championships combined between the men’s and women’s teams and in 2018, both the men’s and women’s teams were national champions.

“You recruit good student-athletes, both in the classroom and running-wise, but more importantly hopefully the right people with the right mindset and right attitude,” Baltes said.

Now heading into the 2021 season, Baltes looks to build on his success by continuing to focus on having a “blue-collar mindset of working hard every day.”

Working hard, working for each other, and working for a greater purpose are three things that Baltes emphasizes to create a winning culture within the program. With all of these factors playing into the success of this season, he believes both the men’s and women’s teams will see all of that paying off for them.

“This is probably the deepest men’s roster we have ever assembled performance and result-wise, and what they’ve already done,” Baltes said. “It doesn’t mean they are automatically going to get stuff done moving forward, but we know the talent and the ability is there on both sides.”

A big part of that depth on the men’s team comes from the addition of Isaac Harding, a graduate transfer from the University of Michigan. Harding transferred to GVSU last fall and although he did not get to compete in cross country due to the cancellation of the season, he did have a chance to compete as a member of the track team last spring. Following the cancellation of last season, Harding said he looked at it as an opportunity to get better and separate himself.

“We didn’t know when I was going to be able to race again, but I knew when I did it would be apparent who put in the work during the pandemic and the people that didn’t,” Harding said. “So, I kind of tried to look at it as an opportunity to put in the most massive training block I’ve ever put in.”

That extra work became evident during the track and field season for Harding. At last year’s NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Harding finished first in the 5000m with a time of 14:13.78 and second in the 10,000m with a time of 29:09.70.

“To be able to win a national title is something I have always wanted to do since I started running nine years ago,” Harding said.

After the success on the track last spring, the hope is to achieve similar success throughout the course of the cross country season. Harding said for most of his running career he has typically enjoyed cross country more than track because of the team aspect, as well as the added elements involved in the sport. Coach Baltes said the value Harding adds to the roster extends much further than just what he brings as a runner.

“I think the greatest thing with Isaac is he’s a great person,” Baltes said. “He works hard both in the classroom and training-wise and because of that he has produced great results.”

Both Baltes and Harding have their eyes set on similar goals for the team this season, win the GLIAC championship, regional championship, and a national championship. The cross country team is looking to have a strong start to the season with their first competition taking place at Calvin College on Sept. 4 for the Knight Invitational.