Saturday is why Hannah Osborn picked Grand Valley State University and not some also-ran NCAA Division I school. It's the reason why she is traveling to Joplin, MO., and not taking a break after a grueling collegiate cross-country season.
On Saturday, Osborn will run for the No. 3 Lakers at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships. She'll race for a team that has national title hopes and for a shot individually at All-American status (top 40). Three years ago it all seemed like a tough decision, but now, it's a no-brainer.
“I looked at other schools, but when I visited here, I fell in love with the place,” Osborn said. “The facilities are incredible, the coaches are great and I saw what they've done with runners just like me: win (championships) and make All-Americans.”
Grand Valley State, in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a D-II powerhouse that regularly finishes in the top five nationally in both men's and women's cross-country and track and field. It's a “big” school for D-II athletics, but it has decided to remain a big fish in a smaller pond instead of going for D-I status. The result is, well, winning. Every year.
For Osborn, joining such a successful program wasn't exactly a culture shock. Her parents, Gregg and Ellen Osborn, have coached a strong Concordia Lutheran program for several years. But Hannah was looking for something bigger, yet not too big.
“Grand Valley has a really big team, but it's a close team,” Osborn said. “We have a lot of girls on the team, which makes it fun, but we still have unity.”
Joining a nationally prominent program isn't the easiest way to make a varsity lineup, and it has taken Osborn three years. Yet, according to Grand Valley State coach Jerry Baltes, Osborn is right on schedule.
“We get a lot of great runners in every year and they are not ready for collegiate training,” Baltes said. “So we redshirt them, knowing that their fifth year will be much better than their first year. We want to take time helping them improve instead of throwing them into the fire.”
Osborn, because of gymnastics, had never run year-round until her senior year at Concordia. So, she wasn't quite ready for big-time and full-time collegiate running.
“I came in and I was doing really well,” Osborn said of her first year. “But by the middle of the season I was pretty tired. I was glad that I was redshirting because I was worn out right when the varsity was running in the big meets.”
The Lakers went on to win the NCAAs that fall. Last year Osborn was an alternate on the Lakers' third-place team and again was a little tired late in the season.
This year, the Lakers are strong again and so is Osborn. At last week's Midwest Regional she was the Lakers' second runner and placed ninth overall as the team won its 12th straight regional championship.
“The key was for her to be patient,” Baltes said of Osborn. “That has helped her a lot. She has a bright future because she is so smart and disciplined.”
So, what about Saturday in Joplin, Mo.? Do the Lakers have a shot at an NCAA title, and can Osborn be an All-American?
“As a coach I think we are going to run very well,” Baltes said. “And I am confident that Hannah is ready. All seven of our runners have made All-American the last two years. She's right on schedule.”
McLain running for Lewis; McClanahan for Southern Indiana
Also running in the NCAA Division II championships are Homestead graduate Andrew McLain and Carroll graduate Kaylee McClanahan.
McLain, a junior at Lewis University (Ill.) placed third at the Midwest Regional and figures to be a strong candidate for All-American status with a top-40 finish.
McClanahan, a junior at Southern Indiana, hopes to help her team to a top-five finish.