Coach Jerry Baltes /GVSU
Coach Jerry Baltes/GVSU
Grand Rapids, MI
Coach Jerry Baltes has brought GVSU to the national level in just a matter of a few years. His men's and women's teams both finished in the top 6 in the country last year and look to improve on that this year. Read on to find out what his thoughts are on the upcoming season for both squads.
RunMichigan: Coach, congratulations on last years success in cross country. We did another interview with you in early track where you covered some areas of your cross season and training ideas but we wanted to touch base with you again before the cc season starts up. What do you guys and girls have to do to improve on your men's 6th place finish and your women's 4th place finish at last years NCAA meet and do you feel like you are sitting better now than this time last year?
JB: Men: We feel our men's team is going to much better simply with the experience we have from the last couple years racing at the National Championships. With that said we will definitely miss Ryan Cole and his 21st place finish at the National championships, in addition we could still have some first timers racing at the NCAA championships. We have a handful of red shirt freshman that are looking very strong right now. If they continue to stay strong and race with the confidence they are training with they could be in our top 7 come Regionals. We will rely on the experience of those that have raced to teach and help the ones that will be racing get ready for the big races in November. We also know we could be a much better team than last year points wise at nationals and still be 5 or 6 simply because there are some great teams on the men's side in the top 10. So all in all we are just focused on getting a little better each day, each week, and each race.
Women: We lose a couple key runner out of our top 7 in 10 x all american Krista O'dell and fellow 5th year senior Diana Martin, both were great leaders for us over their career at GVSU. On the flip side we return a great group of women that have really committed to their training over the last year. We have had some women make some great improvement since the last falls national down at Southern Indiana last fall. With that said our goal is the same as the men, in focusing on reaching our full potential. If we do that up down our line up we can have another top 4 team in the nation. Their are some tough teams in front of us that we will need things to fall into place in order for us to finish on top, but as long as we do our work and take care of our business that will eventually take care of itself as well.
RunMichigan: You have a very large cross country team. Based off of last years roster, you had over 65 people on both teams combined. How do you go about attracting that many runners and how hard is it to manage and give proper time to each runner?
JB: We have a lot of things in our favor at GVSU, the four things that really stand out to our recruits and their families when we have them on campus are: 1. Quality people/ Administration: From top to bottom we have great people that work and display their passion at GVSU. Our Administration understands the importance of athletics in regards to a university, and they care about all of our athletic programs. They want to see all of our student athletes be successful at GVSU, both in the classroom and on the competitive field. One comment we continually hear from recruits when they are on their visit and once they get here is how genuinely nice and helpful people are at GVSU.
2. Beautiful Campus/ Facilities: This another thing we hear at GVSU. People make the comment that everything is so new, nice, and beautiful. This goes back to our administration understanding the importance of creating a positive environment to grown in. Our athletic facilities our solid and our staff is continually looking at ways to make them a bit better each year, but our true blessing is the high quality academic facility we have in all our areas of study.
3. Coaching staff that cares for our student athletes: I have been very fortunate since day 1 at GVSU to have many giving assistant coaches. Probably some of the best in the country. They were not here for the $, most of the time, especially early on their was not much if any. They were and are here for the passion they share for track and field and helping young adults become better students, athletes, and most importantly people. This current year we have 10 coaches on our staff. We have 4 full timers- myself- distance, Lou Andreadis -pole vault, Ray wIlliams- sprints/ jumps, Jason VanElst-Throws, in addition we have 6 giving part timers to volunteers who are the true backbone of our staff. Charlie Wolf is starting his 5th year helping me with the distance runners, Ted Kushion is in his third year working with the Javelin and High Jumpers, and we have three student assistant coaches( Aaron Wrickens, Kristen Kulczcki, and Katie Corner) that have great promise in the coaching field.
4. Our student athletes- This is the cornerstone and backbone of our program. WIthout this part we would not be coaches, we would not have jobs, and we would not be able to enjoy the passion we have for the sport. Just as I have been blessed with great coaches over the last 6 years, I have been just as blessed to have incredible student athletes go through our program that have moved on to be great people in the real world. These people are truly the reason of our success, many have sacrificed more than you can imagine to simply be the 21st runner on the cross country team and have the opportunity to come to practice with people they call teammates and friends. It is truly awesome and makes me proud of the many success stories we have had of average high school athletes that have stuck it out to become GLIAC scores, and even all-americans, and some not until their senior year! All this put together is called Tradition which leads to Expectation which leads to Accomplishment, which leads to Pride in the program and the cycle builds from there.
RunMichigan: At times you probably have to pull back the reigns on some of your runners. How often do you find yourself slowing down your obviously motivated athletes?
JB: Since we came into camp 12 days ago we have said that, well, pretty much every day. With my added age and a bit of "maturity" I have learned to become more patient. My current athletes think it is because of the birth of our first child 7 months ago, which could be correct, but I think I have learned the first two weeks can kill a season physically before it will make a season. November 19 is quite few days away, so if we are patient, do things right, and take it one day at a time we will be ready on the day.
Our upperclassmen have a great understanding of the process, which makes our coaches job a lot easier. It is usually the youngsters/ newcomers that we have to settle down and try to get them to quit trying to prove themselves every day in practice. RunMichigan: Regionals this year will be at Ferris State at the same place where they hosted conference two years ago. How much of an advantage do you see that is for the GLIAC teams looking to sneak into nationals?
JB: Well the great advantage to all the regional teams is the fact that we get 4 bids for nationals. It will be a lot easier to sneak in with twice as many spots. In the past we went into the meet telling ourselves we had to have a very solid day otherwise we could finish in third and be sitting at home, but now with 4 teams there is a little more breathing room. There is no doubt that it is not a disadvantage. The course has many of the same characteristics as the national course with topography. We raced very well on it two years ago at GLIACS, and we will see the course in September at a pre regional meet they are hosting so we will be ready to go when the day comes. I would imagine it would bode the same for the rest of the GLIAC teams as well.
RunMichigan: It appears that there are 4 spots for each gender from the Great Lakes regional. If you care to speculate, who are your preseason national qualifying teams?
JB: Oh wow, that is a loaded question. I have not spent a lot of time breaking other programs down and since we have not seen any results yet this year it makes it an even more difficult. I do not know a lot about the other conference either. So I hope no one gets upset with my rough predictions, apologies if I missed anyone.
MEN: I would have to put Wayne State in the mix since they return all 7 from last year. In addition, Saginaw returns a nice crew, Southern Indiana has some solid returnees and have a great recruiting class, and the word on the street is Ashland got some solid newcomers and some new big gun for a coach???
WOMEN: Northern Michigan will be tough as always, Hillsdale returns a nice group, Ashland was 13th at Nationals last fall, Southern Indiana added some nice help to their front running ace of Heather Cooksy, and Wayne State, and Ferris State should have a solid group as well.
RunMichigan: Do you feel that you will open the gap on Northern Michigan women's team or do you feel that they might give your ladies a run at conference?
JB: There is no doubt anything can happen on any given day. I think they will be a bit closer to us than last year, of course a lot of that depends on other teams as well. Last year we were very fortunate to have outstanding days at Gliacs and especially regionals.
RunMichigan: How many new faces should people following Grand Valley's men's and women's teams look forward to seeing in the top 7 in the upcoming season?
JB: As I stated above we could have some red shirt freshman step in and make a run at a top 7 spot. We will have a couple returning individuals(Mark Terpstra, to name one, is coming off IT Band surgery and has run more this summer than prior to the two seasons he was one of our top runners), that were not in the mix last year that we feel will make a great impact on our squad. On the men's side right now we have 15 guys running in the front group and on any given day a different 7 have made up that front 7. We are not worrying about that of course, whoever is # 8-15 will be disappointed not being in the top 7, but I truly believe the whole group understands the great opportunity in front of them in training with such a focused and motivated group. We want people in our program that want the challenge and opportunity to come out and train and get better with the best. Someone that is more worried about making the 7 is probably not going to be a good fit for our program.
The women will add a couple new faces as well, we have one on the shelf injured right now that will not be back this season. At the same time we are bringing 2 time cross country all american Kara Egan back at a steady rate and look for her to make an impact similar to her first two years in the program. In addition we have a couple red shirt freshman, 1-2 true freshman, and a couple ladies that have just made an awesome jump since last fall that are looking strong right now. SO on both sides it will be an awesome ride to see both squads progress and come together for the prize in November in California!
Thanks for the great interview coach! (Interview conducted by Nick Cordes)