Mature mentality key in men's 3rd place, highest ever national finish
Maturity played a key role in the third place finish of the Grand Valley State University men’s cross country team at the NCAA Division II National Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday. The race marked the highest national finish the men’s team has had in program history.
Moving up from last year’s fifth-place finish, GVSU was ranked third going into the meet and met expectations, scoring 135 points. Adams State won the meet with 57 points and Western State finished second with 102 points.
Many would think the runners’ performance could be reduced to weekly mileage and how quickly they can run those miles. Speed and endurance are definitely factors, but coaches and athletes agreed the Lakers’ improved national performance this year could be attributed to a difference in mentality and focus going into the meet.
“We always focus on doing the little things and progressing year to year,” said associate head coach Joe Lynn. “We took that next step in mileage and that next step in training and I think definitely the next step in maturity. We kept our composure all year, and our focus was incredible. They had their goals set toward today.”
Head coach Jerry Baltes was also pleased with the men’s performance.
“They’ve sort been overshadowed (by the women’s victory). They ran a great effort, ran very competitive,” Baltes said. “There’s no doubt our men took a step forward in training this year. They went from running 90-mile weeks to 100-110 mile weeks, and that was a huge difference I think. They’re growing up … they’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of confidence.”
GVSU’s top seven men consisted of mostly juniors with one sophomore and one freshman this year, meaning all of them will return for at least one more season. The majority of the group has developed together since their freshmen year, and the result of their progress was apparent on Saturday while they raced through the snow.
Leading the way for the Lakers was junior Anthony Witt, who completed the 10k course in 31 minutes 13.0 seconds for an overall place of 15. Junior Tyler Emmorey (31:13.9) ran alongside Witt for most of the race and came in 17th, followed by junior Paul Zielinski (31:29.9), junior Ryan Toth (31:38.0), sophomore Stephen Fuelling (31:39.9), junior Jeff Nordquist (31:59.0) and freshman Larry Julson (32:16.0). Michael Crouch of Queens, N.C., won the men’s race in 30:43.2.
“We knew coming into it, it was going to be a four- or five-team race, but we knew the only thing we could control was ourselves; we can’t control what the other teams are doing,” Witt said. “We got off the line great and ran as a pack for awhile. I really don’t think we could have raced that any differently and come out with a better outcome.”
Lynn said the team planned to go out aggressive, and he said the men ran a very strong and mature race.
“All seven ran their hearts out (Saturday) in very adverse conditions,” Lynn said. “Anthony Witt and Tyler Emmorey ran incredible all year working together. Paul Zielinski and Ryan Toth came on this last month. (Nordquist) and Larry might have been just a little bit off, and Steve just with that quiet confidence- he knows what works for him- really came through in the last half when we needed him.”
Fuelling described his season as having a “rocky start” after struggling to overcome a shin injury. He spent time cross-training, lowered his mileage and sat out the NCAA Midwest Regional meet in order to save himself for the national race.
“The coaches had faith in me,” Fuelling said. “I just got through it and kept feeding off my teammates and realizing that this is going to be a good year if I keep work hard with all that and working with the trainers.”
Looking back on the season as a whole, Fuelling said it’s been a great year and he viewed the third-place finish as a significant achievement.
“Individual-wise, I just didn’t give up and fought through the season,” he said. “I gotta be happy with how I did here … Team-wise, it’s just been a heck of year. Not even talking about how we finished, just being on this team, it’s great. Our team chemistry is awesome this year- we all love each other; it’s a big family. Next year we’re going to go after it all and we’ll see what happens.”
Lynn was also optimistic about the men’s team performance in years to come.
“We’ve got great leadership and a very solid team,” he said. “It’s an incredible team to coach, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”