Three GVSU track and field athletes break school records at Holiday Open

It was the Lakers' first meet of the year

By Jacob Arvidson | 12/4/16 10:21pm

GVL/Archive - Kendra Foley competes during the Mike Lints Invitational on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015 in Allendale.

The first indoor track and field meet of the year is supposed to be more of a tune-up meet, a chance to get the athletes back in the swing of things.

The Grand Valley State Holiday Open held Friday, Dec. 2, proved a tune-up was not on the Lakers’ minds as three GVSU athletes became new school record holders.

“First meet of the year you’re always going to have some good, some bad and some ugly,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “This year I think we had a little bit of great.”

Senior Kendra Foley set the tone in the 5,000-meter run, breaking Rachel Patterson’s almost four-year-old record. Foley finished second in the race, but crossed the line with a time of 16:01.53, more than five seconds faster than Patterson’s time of 16.07.28.

“In the past I’ve tended to hit a barrier, or hit a mental wall, or give up in the middle of the race,” she said. “Today, I really tried to focus on pushing past those barriers and just kept pushing myself past what I thought I could do.”

Foley’s time also earned her an automatic qualifying mark, which guarantees her a trip to the national championship meet in March.

“I knew that I could qualify and I knew I had that in me, but taking a record from someone like Rachel Patterson, who is a multi-time national champion here, was pretty special,” she said. “It means that I’m capable of doing the same things that she was capable of.”

On the men’s side of the 5,000, redshirt sophomore Zach Panning was ready for a record moment of his own. His blistering pace blew away the competition as he took first place with a time of 14:02.23, while shooting past Nate Peck’s decade-old record of 14:07.24. GVSU’s Chris May also broke Peck’s record at the same time, but finished in second behind Panning.

“We were looking to qualify,” Panning said. “This was our last race before we take a deep breath, so we just really wanted to leave it all out there.”

Panning’s time also earned him an automatic qualifying mark to the national meet.

And then there was shrieking from the direction of the jumping pit.

The excitement came from junior Isaiah Thomas after a massive leap set a new GVSU long jump record. Brandon Womack’s 7.24-meter (23 feet, 9 inches) record, set back in 2001, fell as Thomas leaped over a full foot farther with a jump of 7.61-meters (24 feet, 11 ½ inches).

“I just came off of an injury two weeks ago,” he said. “Even to be able to hit the first jump that I hit – it was 7.35 meters – was a big thing for me because I wasn’t expecting to be able to jump that well coming off of an injury. I still have a couple problems with it, but it’s definitely nothing too severe. I’m just happy right now."

Thomas’ performance also earned him a guaranteed spot at the national meet. The automatic qualifier meant something special to the transfer from Vincennes University.

“Coming from a junior college, automatic marks were always really low,” he said. “So I’ve never actually had to jump a really big jump like that in order to go to nationals.

“This was only the second college meet my parents have been able to make it to. It was really nice being able to have them here.”

GVSU’s three automatic marks were not the only high points of the meet. The Lakers also met 15 provisional marks between the men’s and women’s teams. A provisional mark will be considered for the national meet if the automatic qualifying spots are not all filled.

The Lakers will have a chance to take a deep breath before the grind of the track and field season truly begins. They return to action when they host the Bob Eubanks Open Friday, Jan. 13 at the Kelly Family Sports Center.

“It’s always the difficult part,” Baltes said. “We’re going to keep training, but the focus has to increase academically as far as getting ready for final exams and doing well there, but we still have to get some work in every day to continue either progressing fitness or at least maintaining fitness.”

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