The Youngstown State University cross country teams performed well at the Horizon League Championships on Saturday at Boardman High School.
The women won their first ever championship, scoring 36 points. The Penguins placed three runners in the top five with senior Anna Pompeo finishing second out of 94. Senior Samantha Hamilton finished fourth, and freshman McKinsie Klim placed fifth.
The men finished second behind the University of Detroit Mercy. Junior Eric Rupe became the first Penguin to ever win the event. He led YSU in the 8k race, finishing first out of 78 runners. Sophomore Austin McLean placed fifth, missing the top three by 10 seconds.
Coach Brian Gorby spoke over the phone and commented on his experience in our weekly Five for Five section.
Coach, my first question is overall can you just talk about being in the Horizon League Championship? What was going through your mind and maybe some of the players’ minds before the championship began?
Well, going into the championship, the women were coming off of Pre-Nationals where they beat teams like Oklahoma, UIC and Texas Tech, beating some of the real powerhouse teams across the nation. They knew that they had a really good shot to do well in regard to the race and stuff. Our men were led by Eric Rupe. We figured our shot going in was about fourth or fifth on the men’s side, and the women were trying to go up to the top two. Again, just like any other situation and stuff with YSU, our focus was to do well, we wanted to plan smart early in the race and execute well. Then, of course, pick a lot of people off and come home strong. We knew we had home course advantage up at Boardman High School, which we were hosting for the first time in eight years. We kind of knew the course pretty well and knew we had a crowd cheering us on, which we were hoping to have that as a big help to our kids.
You just mentioned Eric Rupe. Can you talk a little more about him? What did his win mean to you, your team and him personally?
Earlier in the year, we were ranked about fourth or fifth, so we’ve been beaten by four or five different teams at different points of the season. We had two injuries out of the gate, so Eric did a great job of keeping the glue together in regard to the team. He was kind of the leader, like a second coach out there and cheering on the guys. Even though he was running, he was keeping them inspired. The chemistry of this team is the best that we’ve had in probably four or five years. Going in, he just did a great job overall. He just hammered the last mile.
In all of your years coaching here at YSU, where does this past weekend rank among with any of your other experiences or any of your past events?
I don’t want to say it was any better or any worse. For the men to come up and finish second was great. For the women, they physically looked great. To see the girls own that course, for that day to get a couple thousand fans out there to see all the kids step up was a tremendous accomplishment. Any time you bring home a championship is the hardest thing to do in this world. They don’t come easy. It’s definitely one of the top four or five championship performances we’ve ever had here.
You mentioned a lot of names already, obviously Eric Rupe and Samantha Hamilton. Men or women, who are maybe some of the athletes that surprised you or opened your eyes?
Probably one of the nicest surprises was Libby Rogenski who’s from Poland, and, of course, McKinsie Klim from Poland. The two girls are freshmen who were running at high school last year. McKinsie Klim was Freshman of the Year, so what an awesome accomplishment for McKinsie. It’s kind of neat to see the next generation come in. And Brittany Stockmaster was the key. She’s the lady that peaks well at the end of the season.
That was big, and on the men’s side, Jon Hutnyan from Canfield and Nick Gliha, both of them together probably passed us well into probably 25 people combined in the last two miles, which is a lot of people to pass. Those two and, of course, Austin McLean and the freshman Jonathan Richmond. Without him, we probably would not be in second. We would have been in fifth. Our guys are ecstatic for what they did.
Now that the championship is over, where do you go from here? What’s next on your list?
What’s next is regionals in a couple of weeks up at Madison, Wis. We just got ranked today at 14th in the region. I think we’re ahead of seven Big Ten schools right now in the region. It’s the highest ranking in program history to be ranked 14th in the region. That probably puts us in the top 50, top 60 in the country, and that’s in Division I. We’ll be going to regionals in two weeks, trying to keep climbing and keep improving. That’s our focus all the time.