GV cross-country takes pride in tradition
While football, basketball and volleyball may be more popular sports on campus at Grand Valley State University, very few sports have managed to have the recent success that the men’s and women’s cross-country programs have enjoyed.
The GVSU cross-country teams have been a powerhouse this century, winning the past 13 GLIAC titles and 11 straight NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Championships on the women’s side, while the men have captured the previous 11 GLIAC titles and the past 10 Regional Championships.
The women also managed to score the program’s first ever NCAA Division II National Championship in 2010, and have finished in the top three nationally each of the last six years. The men have matched their highest finish nationally the last two years, placing third.
“I think we’ve been fortunate to have quality student athletes over the years,” said head coach Jerry Baltes. “Cross-country is a program that often takes time to develop runners into people that can contribute. We’ve had kids that have been committed over the course of their careers.”
With any college program, recruiting is always an important factor that will dictate the amount of success you will be able to achieve. For Baltes and the Lakers, it’s not only about finding the best athletes, but the athletes that can fit into a system.
“We look at individuals’ times and how fast they run, but more importantly, we try to really get to know and figure out what type of person they are,” he said. “Are they a hard worker? Are they going to be a good teammate? Are they a person that when things aren’t going well, are they going to stick with it and stay focused and stay tough? No doubt natural talent is key, but you also have to find people with the right mindset.”
GVSU has traditionally redshirted their incoming freshmen, giving them another year to grow and develop within the program. When a program has the track record for success like GVSU’s cross-country, it makes it easier for athletes to buy into the program and stick with it.
“You’re gonna do well in the later years of your career and be the best at the end,” said junior Brent Showerman. “Patience is the key. Some of our best runners are people who have either been hurt, or the training didn’t work for them at first, but a big thing for everyone is to buy into the training and trust the coaching and trust the training that it’s going to work.”
Within the program, the upperclassmen take it upon themselves to mentor the incoming freshmen and sophomores. This all works within the concept of building team chemistry.
“We try to show our freshman and sophomores what being a teammate is all about,” said junior Courtney Brewis. “It’s the fact that the coaches know how to build a solid program and they recruit people who work together to build a strong team. We’re working together to accomplish our goals.”
For now, GVSU looks to continue to uphold their strong tradition. If history continues to repeat itself, the Lakers have a bright future ahead of themselves.
“When you’re a freshman coming into this program, and you see the seniors and the juniors that have worked hard to get to that point and the success that they’re having, you say, ‘I want to do that one day. I want to be there holding the trophy and doing well for the team,’” Showerman said. “When you get that chance, you definitely want to be someone who holds up the tradition and keeps that going.”