By Jeff Brown
The Youngstown State University men’s cross-country team came up one point short of possibly its best season in school history at Saturday’s Horizon League Championship.
The Penguins finished second in the race but were near seconds from being victorious. All the Penguins needed was a single runner to finish one place higher and the team would have tied for the championship.
“It hurt. I thought we had a good shot. We knew it was going to come down to Oakland and us. Everyone battled as hard as we could,” senior Austin McLean said.
McLean took first place in the race and was named Horizon League Cross Country Athlete of the Year. McLean was also victorious at the Tommy Evans Invitational earlier this year and was the Penguins’ top runner in every race he competed in this year.
“Austin has had an amazing journey from a West Jefferson Ohio High School runner that never ran a day of cross-country in his life before arriving on YSU’s campus in 2011,” head coach Brian Gorby said. “Austin has been like a son for five years and will be greatly missed by myself, staff and teammates.”
Gorby has been highly impressed by the way McLean has handled himself through the highs and lows of his career at YSU, and believes he is a role model for future YSU runners.
“The journey through the lows of stress fractures and redshirt years and back of the pack races to the apex of 2015 Horizon League Championship is a story we will share with many, many future freshmen to come to YSU,” Gorby said. “His work ethic and attention to detail is second to none.”
McLean was named as first team All-Horizon League, along with teammate sophomore Ryan Sullivan who finished third in the HL championship. Fellow teammates sophomore Alan Burns and junior Ethan Wilson were named to the second team All-Horizon League. Burns finished eighth, while Wilson came in at 11th.
The finish for Wilson was his top performance of the year and was something he wasn’t expecting coming in to the year.
“To be honest, I actually didn’t think I could run anything I did this year. I really wanted to be top five this year — on the team. Coming in, I’m a junior and third oldest on the team, I just wanted to be a huge influence for the younger guys,” Wilson said.
The trio of Sullivan, Burns and Wilson gives the Penguins high hopes for next year’s HL Championship. The trio expects to all finish top 10 in the conference, with Sullivan and Burns having a chance to be two of the top runners in the conference.
“Me and Ryan have talked about that before,” Burns said. “Whether it’s our junior or senior year, that’s one of our main goals to finish one [or] two in the Horizon League. When it comes to workouts we’re always pushing each other and motivating each other, and when it comes to races it’s the same type of situation.”
The Penguins have one more race left this season, The Great Lakes Regional Championships. The regional championship has a field of the top cross-country programs from Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. YSU finished 21 out of 30 teams a year ago, but hope to crack the top 20 this season. The Penguins have ranked as high as 14 in the Great Lakes Region this season. McLean was the Penguins’ top runner in last year’s meet finishing 60th, and set the school record for the 10k.
“I think we could honestly push for a top-15 spot this year. I think that’s doable if everyone does well,” McLean said. “Which would be huge to be top 15 in our region, which is probably the second toughest region out of the nine. It’s gonna be tough but I think we can do it.”