GVSU track and field takes gold in GLIAC
The Grand Valley State University men’s and women’s track and field teams made history earlier this month, winning the GLIAC Championships in front of their home crowd Friday, May 3.
Both of the Laker teams entered the three-day meet with intentions of winning the conference, and after 27 podium finishes and 11 individual GLIAC champions, they accomplished their goal.
“I thought our student athletes and coaching staff really prepared well and came together as a team,” said coach Jerry Baltes. “We performed at a 99 percent success rate and didn’t have any mess-ups.”
The men’s team outscored the second place Ashland team 263-214 over the course of the meet, winning their second consecutive conference championship and 13th in program history. The women’s team also won their 20th consecutive conference title by doubling the score of the second place Ashland squad 282-140.
“We have been put in a very good situation by our university," Baltes said. "From scholarships and facilities, even our everyday support. It allows us to recruit the type of student athletes we want, who are willing to work hard.”
Zach Panning led the way for the men’s team, winning the 5,000-meter and breaking the previous GLIAC record set by Ryan Toth in 2011 with a time of 14:07.05 seconds. Following his victory, Panning continued to add to his trophy collection after being awarded the GLIAC Men’s Track Athlete of the Year award.
"It’s been a great ride,” Baltes said. “We are excited for the last three weeks with him and certainly we will miss him when he is onto his professional career after the season.”
The Lakers' championship was a complete team effort, with five different Lakers winning their events. Justin Scavarda and Hunter Weeks both won their events and carried the load off the track, with Scavarda throwing 52.42 meters in the discus and Weeks clearing 2.15 meters in the high jump.
Along with Panning, Dave Jones and Dennis Mbuta led the Lakers on the track, winning the 800-meter and the 1,500-meter runs with times of 1:51.87 and 3:52.83 seconds. However, the meet was not won only because of the first place finishers, but also because of podium finishers like John Groendyk, who was awarded the GLIAC Freshman Track Athlete of the Meet award following his third-place finish in the 1,500-meter (3:55.38).
“John’s performance was early in the meet and it really set the tone,” Baltes said. “He’s not flashy, he just does everything right day in and day out.”
On the women’s side, Rachel Walters headlined the dominant meet for the Lakers, running a 2:07.74 and winning her third straight GLIAC title in the 800-meter. However, Walters’ most impressive race of the day came in the 4x400 meter, where the team of Nicole Sreenan, Sarah Buella, Jessica Eby and Walters finished first and set a new GLIAC record with a time of 3:41.31, beating the previous record by over two seconds. Following Walters’ two gold medal finishes, she was awarded the GLIAC Women’s Track Athlete of the Year award.
“Rachel is one of the easiest people I have coached here at GVSU,” Baltes said. “She just bought right in from day one and knows what it takes to be a good team member.”
Angelica Floyd followed Walters’ lead, winning three different gold medals, including the long jump (5.82 meters), 100-meter dash (11.76 seconds) and one as a member of the 4x100 meter dash (46.32 seconds), along with Sreenan, Beulla and Willow Stuedemann. Buella also won the individual title in the 400-meter dash with a time of 55.54 seconds. In the 5,000-meter and the steeplechase, Gina Patterson and Hanna Groeber both won their events with times of 16:42.71 and 10:39.48 seconds.
Elli Kimes and Anna Obi were critical for the Lakers in the field events, with Kimes winning her second straight pole vault title with a provisional height of 3.90 meters and Obi winning the triple jump after a leap of 11.70 meters. Mary Hecksel was the lone gold medalist in the throwing events, winning the discus with a throw of 48.86 meters.
Over the past 20 years, the GVSU track and field programs have won a combined 33 GLIAC titles and countless individual titles, but that wouldn’t be possible without the coaching staff, which was awarded GLIAC Men’s and Women’s Coaching Staff of the Year at the conclusion of the meet.
“Our coaches are committed and willing to put in the time and energy to be successful,” Baltes said. “They put in the time so that our student athletes can be successful.”
The men’s and women’s teams will both be back in action and looking to claim more hardware Thursday, May 23 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Kingsville, Texas.