GVSU men’s and women’s cross country teams win national titles

By Jerod Fattal | 12/3/18 10:03am

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Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

The Grand Valley State men’s and women’s cross country teams both won national titles at the 2018 NCAA Division II Championships in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Dec. 1. The national title was the first in program history for the men, and the women’s squad continued to add to their dynasty with their sixth national title since 2010. The Lakers became only the third Division II program to ever win both titles in the same year. 

Both of the teams came into Saturday’s race ranked outside of the top spots in the FloXC team rankings. However, while other teams struggled to handle the constant rain showers (most notably during the Women’s 6K race), frigid temperatures and the muddy course, the GVSU runners showed their grit and performed in the poor conditions.

“It was soupy (on the course),” said head coach Jerry Baltes. “You had to stay out of trouble and watch where you were stepping. We had a race plan to put us in a position to handle that stuff and for the most part we executed it very, very well.”

Senior Zach Panning started the day off right for the Lakers by crossing the Men’s 10K Race finish line in second place with a time of 31:53.6 seconds. It was his second runner-up finish in the past two years.

“Zach took a tumble about 300 meters into the race and was stepped on before bouncing up” Baltes said. “Luckily he wasn’t trampled but he lost about 20-30 spots. He did an incredible job handling that situation, bouncing back up and racing tough to put himself in a good position to finish second and nearly win it all.”

Other key racers were sophomore Enael Woldemichael’s sixth place finish in 32:26.4 seconds, and freshman Tanner Chada’s 21st place finish with a time of 32:59.9. Both earned All-American honors.

Senior Josh Steible and freshman Ben Zaremba also scored points for the Lakers, finishing in 28th and 45th place with times of 33:11.8 and 33:38.6, respectively.

Although only the top five runners score points for your team, schools are allowed to enter seven runners into the race. Despite not finishing in the top five, Jacob Domagalski (59th) and Brian Masayesva (244th) also helped steal points away from opposing teams with finishes in 33:56.6 and 37:20.6. 

“Other than Zach and Enael, none of our other runners had run in a national meet in cross country or track,” Baltes said. “It was phenomenal.”

The Lakers finally got over the hump this year after finishing runner-up to Adams State in four of the past five years. The squad finished with 89 total points, 10 ahead of the next closest team, Colorado Mines. 

“It was great to finally knock down the door, especially since we were so close the last two years,” Baltes said.

Following the men’s victory, Baltes said he spent about five minutes celebrating with the guys and the fans but then had to leave the party to go coach the women at 12:15 p.m.

They did not disappoint. Leading the way was 2018 Individual National Champion, senior Sarah Berger, who crossed the line in 22:07.7 seconds. 

“She had to gut out the last 600 meters and I’m pretty sure she started to see some funny things before she finished," Baltes said "It was just an incredible effort,” 

Berger was not the alone in her dominance. The team finished the day scoring a meet low 41 points, 42 points ahead of the runner-up, Mary (North Dakota.) It was the largest margin of victory for a national title winner in over 13 years.

The team finished with all five of their top runners in the top 26 places, earning All-American honors. Three of them were top ten finishes by Allie Ludge (fifth place), Hanna Groeber (sixth) and Gina Patterson (ninth), finishing with times of 22:39.7, 22:40.6 and 22:53.3 respectfully. Madison Goen rounded out the top five with a time of 23:18.2, earning 26th place.

Other runners for Grand Valley included Stacey Metzger (108th place) and Jessica Gockley (195th place), who crossed the line in 24:29.1 and 25:39.5 seconds. 

“All of us stepped up and put in an amazing performance, definitely more than people thought we could,” Berger said. “But we knew we could do it.”

Following the victory, the team was filled with emotions. 

“We were all sitting there in the chairs after the race and when we found out that we won we all freaked out,” Berger said. “It was just an amazing feeling. Definitely something I will never forget.”

Following the clean sweep, both teams loaded the bus and headed home for Allendale with a pair of trophies to accompany them on the long nine hour bus ride home.

“We are going to share this one with our alumni, administration, and our entire team,” Baltes said. “We’re going to savor it greatly.”

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