ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Ethan Barnes laces up his running shoes and heads out the door of his apartment. A Grand Valley State junior, Barnes makes the short jog across the street to GVSU campus for a recent workout.
It’s less than a half a mile for Barnes to make it to the track. But it’s a long journey for most of the 97 schools that will be competing at the 2015 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week on the campus of Grand Valley State, which is just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is the second consecutive season that the Lakers will host the national meet.
“Some of these schools come with just two or three people,” said Barnes, who is on a GVSU contingent of 30 athletes. “That’s gotta be hard. We’re lucky that we are at home. We have team dinners and train together.”
Texas A&M-Commerce enters the week as the No. 1-ranked men’s team in Division II. But GVSU coach Jerry Baltes said there are a handful of schools who will make a run.
“On the guys side, St. Augustine's and Texas A&M-Commerce are really good,” said Baltes, who is in his 15th year as the men’s and women’s coach at GVSU.
“Ashland, Findlay and Tiffin are good, too. So there are like 10 teams that can be within 10 points of one another.”
The top-five ranked schools are Commerce, St. Augustine’s, Ashland, Adams State and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
St. Augustine’s, which is the two-time defending champions under coach George Williams, has a contingent of 18 athletes.
Barnes, who is from nearby Caledonia, Michigan, is the top 800-meter runner in school history. But his top time of 1:49.95 ranks him 10th in a very strong field, led by two-time defending outdoor champion Drew Windle of Ashland. He has the top time in the nation with a 1 minute, 47.80 seconds. Windle also has won the past three indoor national titles in the 800.
“He keeps raising the bar,” Barnes said of Windle. “Three years ago, without Drew, I might think that 1:49.9 is a great time. But, with people like him and the other guys, they keep running faster and faster. I wanna get better to beat those guys.”
In the 100-meter dash, the fastest man in the country this year is senior Emmanuel Matadi of Minnesota State-Mankato with a time of 10.13. He also is seeded fourth in the 200 (20.70). Tiffin sophomore Lamar Hargrove is the top seed in the 200 (20.56).
Omar Johnson is one of the fastest athletes at the meet. The junior from St. Augustine's is the top seed in the 400 meters with a time of 45.78. But he’s also seeded ninth in the 200 (20.89) and is on the 4x400 relay team that is seeded third (3:08.63). Johnson, a native of Jamaica, was named Division II Atlantic Region Men's Track Athlete of the Year.
In the middle distance, a freshman is making waves in the 1,500 meters.
Adams State’s Oliver Aitchison is the top seed the 1,500 with a blazing time of 3:40.21. That is four seconds faster than No. 2 seed Derrick Williams of Colorado State-Pueblo.
Another Adams State distance runner, Matt Daniels, is the top seed in the 5,000 (13:51.18).
Southern Indiana’s Johnnie Guy dominated in the 10,000 meters this season with a speedy time of 28:47.86. No. 2 seed Dominik Notz, a junior from Alaska-Anchorage, has a time of 29:26.29.
Javier Lopez, a sophomore from Kingsville, has the top time in the 110 hurdles (13.67), while Sean Wells, from host GVSU, is the No. 2 seed (13.70). In the 400 hurdles, Maurice Jones of Hillsdale has the top time in the country (51.37).
Tabor Stevens rounds out a dominant distance team from Adams State with the top seed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8:26.81. That easily outdistances him from the No. 2 seed Abdel-Samad El-Hajjami of Cal Baptist, who has a best of 8:51.66. Stevens also is the No. 12 seed in the 5,000 (14:12.02). Stevens, who was named South Central region Track Athlete of the Year, has the fastest time in Division II history in the steeplechase.
“I like that there's a break of just the running motion,” Stevens told the Colorado Springs Gazette of running the steeplechase. “I know it's a little bizarre that you're jumping over things, but sometimes it's nice to do something weird instead of run around the track 12 times."
Barnes, who has qualified for indoor and outdoor nationals three times, said it's nice to be able to host again.
“It’s cool. You get to see the people that you hear about and see their racing videos online,” he said. “It’s cool to see them all here in Allendale running on our track.”
GVSU is one of the few schools that knows what it feels like to host and have the fans on their side.
“It’s crazy to come out for the race and have them chanting Grand Valley and your name,” Barnes said. “It gets you so pumped up. I’ve never had that at a national meet.”
Baltes, who is was named women’s national coach of the year three times, likes the GVSU track.
“It’s a good track,” Baltes said. “From a spectator’s standpoint, everyone is on top of you because we don’t have big stands. So everyone is right next to the track.”
Jeron Robinson returns to defend his national title in the high jump. The junior from Kingsville has the top jump in the nation with a 2.31 meters. He won last year with a leap of 2.30 meters.
In the pole vault, Cole Phillips, a sophomore from Central Missouri, has the top vault with 5.37 meters.
Kingsville junior Lutalo Boyce is No. 1 in the long jump at 7.71 meters. In the triple jump, Commerce freshman DeVontae Steele has the best leap of 15.56 meters.
Findlay’s Taylor Miller has the top throw in the shot put (18.76m), Central Missouri’s Caniggia Raynor is best in the discus (57.14m), and Justin Welch returns to defend his national title in the hammer throw. The senior from Findlay has a best of 69.94 meters. He won last year with a throw of 69.84. He was second last season in the discus (57.02). He has the second-best toss in the country this season in the discus (56.3m).
Hendrik Nungess, a sophomore from Commerce, returns to GVSU to compete in the heptathlon and the javelin. He has the best javelin toss this season (73.2m).
He won the hep portion of the javelin last year and finished seventh in the regular javelin competition.
In the decathlon, Justin Balczak has the most points in a meet this season. The junior from Azusa Pacific had 7,550 in a meet. Nungess is second with 7,542. Balczak is another native of West Michigan. He graduated from Cedar Springs, Michigan.