Since the fall of 1996, runners from middle school all the way to college have converged on the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida to compete in the Disney Cross Country Classic.
Again this year, the Youngstown State University men’s cross country team will be tested by the Disney Classic. The Penguins will have veterans in the fold when it comes to the 8k run, as they look to defend their title as the fastest team in the event.
Senior Eric Rupe will look to defend his championship in the 8,000-meter race; fellow senior Nick Gilha and junior Austin McLean were the other two Penguin representatives in the top five of the 8k standings. Senior Jon Hutnyan and junior Ethan Wilson also contributed to the event, placing 11th and 27th respectively.
McLean remembers how shocked he was last year when the team won the 8k.
“We didn’t take it as big of a deal as we should have because Miami’s not thought of as a cross country school,” McLean said. “It was still a great accomplishment, especially with a limited number of guys on the team so we were really happy about that.”
Head coach Brian Gorby oversees both the men and women’s programs. He calls last year’s win over Miami, Florida a major accomplishment.
“We didn’t beat Miami in the 90’s,” Gorby said. “But our program has really taken off and to beat Miami is a huge victory. To be streamed live on ESPN3.com was pretty nice, too.”
McLean believes that the team can repeat as winners of the 8k.
“We’ve got some great recruits,” he said. “We have all of our team back from last year. We run fast and team-oriented, and we’re extremely smart at racing. Between us and Malone College, I think the top 13 finishers will be from those programs.”
Four of the runners finished last year’s Disney Classic in the top 11 of the leaderboard. Gorby thinks this year’s team is even better.
“We’ve got our entire roster from last year back in the fold,” Gorby said. “Plus, we’ve added freshmen runners like Alan Burns, Ryan Sullivan and James Nedrich. We ran a time trial the other day and we ran faster than we did in Florida a year ago. We hope to put five guys in the top eight.”
While the men’s team finished second in last year’s Disney Classic, the women also performed well, placing fourth at the meet.
Sophomore Michelle Klim admitted that the trip to Disney World, though, will be rough this year, given the myriad of distractions the tourist attractions have to offer. However, they won’t be in the park for very long.
“I imagine they’ll put us on a schedule,” she said. “After a day, we’ll get together and get down to business and take it seriously.”
The women’s team will be competing in the 6,000-meter race in Saturday’s meet.
Gorby said he believes Malone College will be the main obstacle between YSU and the championship.
“Both of us are extremely strong. We go to Disney and out of 30 or 35 teams, we’ll battle for the title,” he said.
Despite the threat that is Malone College, Gorby expressed satisfaction with the state of his team.
“With this staff and our roster, I think we can win,” Gorby said.