YSU runners gaining notice

By Charles gRove



The Youngstown State men’s cross country team has been building up for a few years now and this year could be the culmination of a lot of hard work.

The past few years the Penguins have been a team hovering around the top 15 of the Great Lakes Regional rankings, but they cracked that this month when YSU was named the eighth-best team in the region in the Oct. 3 poll.

That ranking put the Penguins ahead of every other team in Ohio.

“That one definitely hit home reading that headline,” YSU junior and Howland native Ryan Sullivan said. “I’m from Youngstown and it made me very proud.”

The Penguins slipped out of the top 15 this week but a strong performance at the Horizon League Conference meet could easily put them back up in the regional spotlight.

“The conference meet is the number one focus right now,” YSU head coach Brian Gorby said. “It’s been 1996 since the men won [the conference]. I think the men might have been second or third 10 times since then. Anything after the conference meet is icing on the cake, especially if we can get an individual or team to nationals.”

The team makeup is very Youngstown as well. Six of the 12 runners on the roster are from the Mahoning Valley. And the team takes great pride in that.

“It just shows you how strong distance running is in Ohio and in this part of Ohio,” YSU junior and Boardman native Alan Burns said. “To be a local kid it’s almost like you’re making the community proud.”

What did it take to help lure local talent to Youngstown and facilitate this success for YSU cross country?

“I think the facilities have facilitated [the success],” Sullivan said.

The WATTS provides year long training access and Mill Creek park has been a big benefit to the team as well to get some outside practice.

“The facilities have really helped us a lot,” Gorby said. “Mill Creek and the WATTS have helped a lot. We used to travel back and froth to Kent. We’ve always done more with less and now with the WATTS now we can do more with more.”

The combination of facilities and the eye-catching ranking has Gorby hoping they can help get some of those athletes that tend to go to the BCS-type schools out of high school.

“We’re now all of a sudden talking to kids who were looking at Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin,” Gorby said “Our phones started blowing up with that number one ranking [in Ohio] with kids we weren’t talking to last week.”

To get where they are now, Sullivan said the program has done a good job picking up kids who perform well at the state level who may just miss catching most recruiters’ eyes.

“We’ve had some high-level recruits come here,” Sullivan said. “State runners up or people who fly just under the radar and once they come here their true potential is reached. We’ve been able to grow a team from those kids and now we’re able to get even better contacts.”

The Horizon League Championship takes place on Oct. 29 in Parkside, Wis. The Penguins will be looking to upend reigning conference champion Oakland. In order to do that, the team has begun running fewer miles, working on speed now that their stamina is fully where it needs to be.

“We’ll start dropping our mileage,” Burns said. “I’ve been doing about 80 miles a week but we’ll taper down and start knocking off miles and start working on some shorter stuff to try to do more speed. Once you get to this point in the season the strength is there and now we can start working on that final push.”