Grand Valley State Men’s and Women’s CC teams in championship form

 When Kyle Flores arrived at Grand Valley State in 2011, he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into. Obviously, Flores knew he was joining an elite cross country program.

But as an incoming freshman, he had no idea the things involved in putting the men’s and women’s cross country teams in position to compete for national championships year after year.

Now as a fifth-year senior, Flores fully understands how special it is to be part of the Grand Valley cross country program.

“It means more to me than words can describe,” Flores said. “These guys the past five years have really become a family, my brothers and sisters really. I wouldn’t ask for anything else but to be part of this program.”

Those kinds of feelings flow just as strong in the women’s team, which has won the last three NCAA Division II titles.

Equally impressive, Grand Valley women’s cross country team won its 15th consecutivet Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference title on Oct. 24, edging out Hillsdale by seven points. In two previous meets this year, Hillsdale, led by conference champion Emily Oren, finished ahead of Grand Valley.

But in those meets, defending individual national champion Kendra Foley wasn’t running.  The GLIAC Championships was Foley’s first meet of the season and she took third behind Oren and Grand Valley freshman Gina Patterson.

“We didn’t want to be the team to lose that streak so we have been working hard,” Foley said. “Every week we have been improving and improving a little bit more. We still have a long ways to go before the championship race. But that was definitely a step in the right direction. It helps us keep that positivity knowing we can do it.”

By the way, Grand Valley men’s team won its 14th straight GLIAC title. Both teams are in the right frame of mind heading into Saturday’s Midwest Regional Championships in Evansville.

In fact, both teams are wearing the target as the teams to beat the rest of the season. For just the second time in school history, Grand Valley men’s and women’s cross country teams are ranked No. 1 in the USTFCCCA top 25 at the same time.

“We, at Grand Valley State, have an extremely high level of confidence in our athletes,” Foley said. “We all hold ourselves accountable each day. The men and women both being ranked No. 1 is amazing. I think the women’s team holds the men’s team to that standard and the men’s team holds us to that standard. We work together.”

And that meant on Friday, Grand Valley coach Jerry Baltes put his runners through their hardest workout of the season in preparation for regional. Baltes has complete conference the juniors and seniors will lead the way for the younger runners to follow.

“The biggest thing they understand the expectation of the whole year,” Baltes said of  his upperclassmen. “They are great leaders by example. They do things right each day. Competitive, talented people gravitate to those individuals. They set the tone by working hard and having positive attitudes and mentoring our young kids and getting them to take small steps along the way to be in position to help our team.”

The Lakers are in position to have a very exciting finish to their cross country season. Both teams want to do well at regional and advance to the NCAA Division II National Championships on Nov. 21 in Joplin, Mo.

Last year was very special for the Lakers. The women’s team won its third straight national title and the men’s team finished second behind Adam’s State, which is currently ranked third in the country.

“We primarily talk about focusing on what we can control and what is in our hands,” Baltes said. “What Adams does, what Hillsdale does, we can’t control that. But when the gun goes off, we got to be ready to compete against them.

“In the meantime, we stay focused on what we can control. That is our attitude, our effort on a day-to-day basis. If we can control that, we will be in good position when the gun goes off.”

Foley echoed what Baltes said. But of course, the runners hear about the possibilities of winning a national title.

“We try not to think about it too much leading up to the big race because we don’t want to have that pressure on us,” Foley said. “We take it one week at a time, one day at a time, continuously getting better. But there is definitely a little sense of pressure because we want to keep going.

“A lot of the girls on the team have been to the NCAA championships before and they know what it feels like and they want to have that feeling again. It is not the coaches putting pressure on us; it’s the athletes who hold themselves to a higher expectation.”

Barry women’s soccer succeeding on the field and in the classroom

Last week Barry University’s Lavinia Nkomo and Katie Turner showed that the women’s soccer team is succeeding on the field and in the classroom.

On the playing field, Barry is 11-2-1 and ranked No. 7 in the NSCAA top 25 poll.

In the classroom, Nkomo and Turner learned they made the 2015 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Women's Soccer Team.

It recognizes the nation's top student-athletes for their combined performances athletically and in the classroom. Nkomo and Turner made the All-South Region Team.

Nkomo, the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year, carries a 3.93 GPA in exercise physiology. She is tied for the team lead with eight goals scored, matching her career high, and has five assists.

Turner, the 2014 SSC co-Defensive Player of the Year, is a repeat selection on the All-Region team. She carries a 3.40 GPA in biology (pre-med). She has play all but 13 minutes of every game over the last two seasons, leading the Bucs to a 0.73 goals against average and 15 shutouts.

The pair have also led Barry to three consecutive SSC Championships.

Truman defensive end also sports editor of the student newspaper

One way for a student-athlete to control the media is to be part of the media while still playing.

Actually, Truman senior Devin Gillespie doesn’t view his job as the sports editor for the student newspaper in that fashion. He doesn’t write stories on the football team. He assigns football stories to other writers and he writes stories on other sports.

Gillespie likes the opportunity he has been given to tell stories and have insight on what it is like to be a student-athlete at a university.

“In athletics, there are a lot of things that people don’t know about and the things student-athletes go through,” Gillespie said. “The nature of storytelling to someone who really don’t know what it is like to be a student-athlete has been the main thing I have enjoyed through the year. I have exposed more people to what it is like to be a student-athlete.”