By Dan Hiner
It’s been a long several years for the Youngstown State University men’s cross-country team. Five years ago, the Penguins were considered the worst men’s cross-country team in the state of Ohio.
But after a few talented recruiting classes, the Penguins find themselves as not only the top team in the state, but a top program like Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame.
On Monday, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association released its bi-weekly rankings, and YSU moved from unranked to eighth in the Great Lakes Region. The eighth-place ranking is the highest YSU has ever received from the USTFCCCA.
The Penguins jumped in the rankings following a fourth-place finish at the Joe Piane Invitational at Notre Dame. YSU’s Ryan Sullivan and Ethan Wilson were the top two finishers in the race — Sullivan finished eighth and Wilson finished 24th.
“We’re excited on how well the team raced. None of us ran our personal best other than one kid,” Wilson said. “We have a lot more room to grow, and we just came off a hard workout week. As great as the feeling is, we got 24 hours to celebrate and pump each other up, but we just got to stay humble and keep grinding. We got to prepare for our next race, conference and regionals after conference. It’s definitely exciting, and now we’re notable in Ohio.
“Four years ago, we were last in Ohio, and now we are the number one. I’m definitely pleased, especially being a senior. I never would have thought we would have come this far, but we got really dedicated guys on the team. We’re just looking to get better and prove people wrong.”
For head coach Brian Gorby and graduate assistant Eric Rupe, the new rankings represent how far the Penguins progressed over the years. Rupe ran for the Penguins from 2010-14 and said the new rankings represent “quite an accomplishment” based on the state of the program during his freshman season.
There are 12 members of the men’s team, and half of the roster comes from Mahoning and Trumbull County. Alan Burns, a graduate of Boardman High School, said the jump in the rankings shows the talent in the Mahoning Valley and the commitment the runners have toward improving the program.
“It comes down to a personal level. I’ve been a part of Youngstown my whole life, and now I’m a part of a program,” Burns said. “It’s not just me looking in from the outside. You’ll have more of a drive, because you’re supporting local people, and you’re doing it for the local community. A lot of people follow the Youngstown program, so you’re making your family proud. That’s one of the reasons I stayed local, Youngstown made me feel like home.”
Gorby said the team’s future is “extremely strong” since five out of the top six runners are underclassmen. He said runners like Rupe and Austin McLean helped build the foundation for the program several years ago.
“Every couple years we kinda get a little bit better and a little bit better,” Gorby said. “It’s a result of a lot of hard work. I’m so proud of Ryan [Sullivan] and these guys were the ones that got it done, but there were a lot of people before them.
The cross-country team’s next race will be the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 15. Updated rankings will be released after the race.