Baltes, GVSU men seek national crown
With the leaves changing colors, most people are looking forward to sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes this fall, but the Grand Valley State University men’s cross country team is looking for a national title.
In 2013, GVSU took second in the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championship in Spokane, Washington. The second-place finish was the highest in GVSU men’s cross country program history.
The night before, head coach Jerry Baltes told his runners that they were running for third place.
“It was great to see them go out and prove me wrong and be able to knock off Western State,” Baltes said. “It was a great day for our program.”
The Lakers have two of their top-four runners from that performance returning this fall in senior Alan Peterson (16th) and junior Chad Cini (22nd). Peterson said a pair of transfers could also help the team improve in 2014.
Cini said the Lakers definitely have the potential to win it all this year, and that the team is working even harder to prepare for the upcoming season.
GVSU certainly appears primed to make a run at the national title, but no one sees it as a given. It’s a season-long operation that will require focus on a daily basis.
“It’s ultimately our goal to compete to win a national championship, but we can’t sit here and worry about that,” Baltes said. “The focus has to be on the day-to-day process of working hard and getting better.”
The little things are not the only things being stressed this offseason.
Team chemistry is also a huge element on this team, and even though cross country is usually seen as an individual sport, working together is what makes the difference for GVSU.
“It is not the individual effort that is going to get us to nationals," Peterson said. "You always need to be thinking, ‘What can I do to make the team better?’ Like running in packs and encouraging each other."
Such team chemistry is seen as a positive in Baltes' program, and that often translates into consistent results. The women's team, for example, won its third national title in four years last November.
“Chemistry will be important as we progress through the season with the grind of early morning practices and traveling to and from meets,” he said. “We need to stay on board and be in this together.”
Cini said the biggest rival this season will be Adams State University, which easily claimed the national crown last year with just 54 points in the championship meet. GVSU was well behind with 104 points.
The second-place finish isn’t discouraging the Lakers in 2014, however, and the largest driving force is simply the need for improvement, Peterson said.
The fall season is marked with the return of boots and apple picking, but the GVSU men are focused and more than ready to pick up where they left off in 2014. They just hope it will end with a first-place finish this time around.
The 2014 campaign begins for GVSU on Sept. 12 at Michigan State University’s Spartan Invitational at the Forest Akers East Golf Course in East Lansing, Mich.