By Joshua Fitch
After three strong meets to begin the 2018 season, the Youngstown State University men’s and women’s cross country teams are ready to compete.
The Penguins opened the season at the Duquesne Duals. After that, they ran in the Tommy Evans Invitational and then the Auto Owners Cross Country Spartan Invitational in Boardman.
The men finished first at the Tommy Evans Invitational, while the women also finished in the top-5, placing fourth.
The men’s team had a very strong showing at the Spartan Invitational, despite being without Dylan Dombi, a senior who is missing time due to an ankle injury suffered prior to the season.
Seniors Ryan Sullivan and Alan Burns have led the way for the men’s team so far this season, each finishing in the top 10 for the second straight meet.
“Finishing in the top-10 at our first two meets was a huge confidence booster for me,” Burns said. “Over the summer and the start of the season I put in a lot of hard working through high mileage, summer workouts and really trying to do the little things.”
“Those two are the hardest workers and biggest leaders on the team,” CJ Schumacher, a senior majoring in environmental science, said.
“They just go out there every day,” he said. “Coming here and running with them now, I want to make sure these guys go out strong because it’s their senior year.”
Despite this season being the last for the seniors, one goal for the team remains.
“The most challenging aspect this senior year is going to be chasing another conference championship,” Burns said. “IUPUI is a very strong team this year. It is going to take everything and everyone to be at their best to take them down.”
To take down a strong team, having a strong coach is crucial. That’s where Brian Gorby, head coach of both cross country teams at YSU, comes into play. Gorby is now in his 19th season as head coach of the cross country as well as the track and field teams.
“He’s honestly one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Schumacher said. “He’s able to spread his knowledge to guys and girls. He knows exactly what to do in situations, training-wise.”
It doesn’t change on the women’s side either.
“He knows what he’s doing, for sure,” Raquel Markulin, a sophomore in the nursing program, said. “He wants to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s still individual, but it’s definitely including the entire group to work as one unit.”
As a freshman, Markulin competed in six events and earned her first letter. So far this season, she placed 30th in the Duquesne Duals with a time of 20:30.49. and a time of 24:53.7 in the Spartan Invitational.
While the men and women run separately, they remain united as a team during practice, workouts and throughout the season.
Respect cycles through this team regardless of gender. Members of this team aren’t afraid to show off how hard each side works.
“We’re constantly around each other,” Markulin said. “We’re definitely like a family. The guys team is definitely stacked this year. Both sides I think have an incredible team this year.”
“The women’s team is made up of extremely hard workers,” Burns said. “They’re led by all freshmen and sophomores, and still continue to work hard. It will be exciting to see how well they do this year. In a year or two, they’re going to be an unbelievable team and really hard to beat.”
Being hard to beat is the name of the game. Just like in any other sport, improving is a major factor in cross country as well. Backed by mental preparation, there’s always room for improvement.
“I like to mentally prepare for a meet by sticking to my routine,” Burns said. “That way I don’t stress about it and second guess it. Once the gun goes off, it’s go time and it’s all about knowing where you need to be. There is very little room for slack for us. If we continue to work hard for another month and a half, I think our team can do some great things.”
“If I go out a little harder, then maybe that forces other guys to go out harder, that bumps us up twenty points. That’s huge,” Schumacher said.
For the Penguins, it’s about chasing a championship as the team beams with confidence in 2018.
“Be on the lookout for conference, because I think so many things are going to happen,” Markulin said.
“I look forward to getting to Nationals with these boys, and I look forward to winning another conference title with these boys,” Schumacher said.
“It’s my last year at YSU and I want it to be my best one,” Burns said. “I’m really excited to see everything working out right now, and I hope to carry this through the entire season to perform my best at conference.”
YSU will be in action after a week off at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational in Indiana on Sept. 28.