By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University track and field team is getting ready to make another run at the Horizon League championships on Saturday.
The women’s team won the Horizon League indoor championship last February. The men’s team came up short with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“It kinda sent a message about how you got to appreciate these things because sometimes we been blessed and sometimes we feel like we work hard and we celebrate winning 25 championships,” YSU head coach Brian Gorby said. “With that being said, situations like that where you lost by one, and they won by a point, we try to tell our kids ‘things like these aren’t easy and it takes training until August until now, 24/7 and hard work from the coaches.
“It would mean just as much or even more than the others because this would be number 26 if we could get it and the ladies possibly have a battle to get number 27. Now with that being said, now we have to focus on just getting number 27.”
Gorby said this could be the best team in the history of the program. He said the program has players in place that are “pillars” for the program. He said Chad Zallow, Conner Neu and Austin McLean have formed the foundation for the men’s program this season.
Last season, Gorby wanted to put an emphasis on improving the men’s team. YSU jumper Jay Jakovina said the team has grown over the past three seasons, and the opportunity to compete for the Horizon League championship in his senior season didn’t change the mentality of the team because the men’s team is used to being “the underdog” in past seasons.
“Obviously going these past three years we’ve had some heartbreaks and going into this last year, and knowing it’s your last year and you have a chance to win,” Jakovina said. “It’s very sweet but at the same time it puts the pressure on, because it is the last chance to come in and take that indoor title.
“Freshman year, I came in, and we were basically fighting for second place — scraping to get points to get a chance at second place. Then sophomore year comes in and we’re at 10 points, kinda in that zone where we could have a chance to win it, and last year we lose by a point or two. Now we’re coming in this year as the favorites.”
For YSU distance runner Austin McLean, an indoor championship would be the greatest moment in his collegiate career.
“It was great to get the one back in 2014 for outdoor, but this means so much more to me and the other guys than anything that we could really realize,” McLean said. “The one thing I would tell the rest of the guys team is, ‘look up at those banners. Most people see a number, but when I look at the banners, I see a legacy, I see a story behind the number.’ The team … there’s names behind it. When the guys swept the 60[-meter], when the 3K went off and we went one, two, three and two 5K sweeps.
“Marcellus Embry, Austin McLean, Jon Hutnyan and Eric Rupe … every name, remember what these guys did. There’s always gonna be somebody who asks in the future, ‘who was on that team back then?’ There’s always gonna be a story behind it. It’s a legacy. The best team in history will be this year. And we’ve lost by six, seven points a lot of times to Milwaukee, and I think they got the last nine or 10 indoors. To win this one would be great, but I’m not satisfied with a win. I want to demolish them honestly. We’ve lost so many times. I want to go out there and get a big victory the first day and hold onto the lead.”