NCAA regional appearance prepares Penguins XC for future

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The temperatures are getting colder, the days are getting shorter, but the Youngstown State cross country program was at work the past few weeks in Mill Creek Park preparing for its trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet.

YSU assistant cross country coach Eric Rupe said the men’s and women’s team achieved some of their goals at the Horizon League meet two weeks ago.

“Our goal is top three (for the) men and women going in,” he said. “Our women were fifth last year and our guys won last year but we lost four seniors who were in our top seven. We’re replacing those guys with younger guys who were literally last place at conference two years ago.

“Guys came back, got third after finishing ninth two years ago. It’s the same group of guys, so we’re really happy with how they ran. Everybody caught people the last 1,000 (meters). We kind of pride ourselves on moving up through the pack. The women did the same thing and got second. Bringing home a trophy is always a great thing to do — especially finishing fifth last year with the same group.”

The regional meet will feature schools from all over the midwest including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin among other power five and mid-major universities.

YSU competed in large meets this season at Penn State, Notre Dame and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Although regionals is a lot bigger than the conference meet, Rupe thinks the success the two teams had can give YSU some momentum.

“It’s good,” Rupe said. “The fitness is there for these guys. The regional meet is a lot different than the Horizon League meet.

“In the Horizon League there’s 80 to 90 runners. The regional meet will have 30 Division I schools that are the best in the Great Lakes region. It’s a lot different competing because you’re kind of in a pool rather than it being a little bit thinner spread up front, especially with our girls. I think we are gaining experience. Our guys are ranked 13th in the region right now.”

Sean Peterson has an injury, and is the only male out of the top five.

Rupe said he thinks the regional meet will be beneficial going into next season.

“Our goal is to get to the level where we’re competing at a regional level with some of the bigger programs,” Rupe said.

Both cross country teams feature local talent, including graduates from schools such as Girard, South Range, Boardman, Champion, Austintown Fitch, Maplewood, Canfield, Badger, Western Reserve, Poland and Niles McKinley.

Starting this season, the cross country rosters have been expanded from 12 men and 12 women to 18 athletes on each team. Next year, the rosters will be expanded again when each team will be allowed to carry 25 athletes on each team for a total of 50 cross country runners.

Neither the men’s nor the women’s team have any seniors on the roster this season, something YSU coach Brian Gorby feels is important going forward, especially with the growing team.

“When you’re moving up those kind of numbers, leadership becomes even more key and integral to our program,” Gorby said. “I think not losing anybody is huge.

“Each of those juniors and sophomores are making sure they’re guiding and bringing everybody else in. Naturally, we have to work with freshmen. When you get juniors that act like an extension of us as coaches, I think that’s a huge plus for our program.”

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