The Youngstown State University Men’s Cross Country team is coming off one of the strongest seasons in school history after finishing second in the Horizon League Championship last year — the team’s highest finish in school history. This year the Penguins have their sights set on first; senior Eric Rupe and junior Austin McLean will be expected to help the team achieve this lofty goal.
In last year’s championship, Rupe became the first Penguin to win the Horizon League Cross Country Championship, finishing first out of 78 runners. He also captured the YSU 5K record earlier in the season, recording a time of 14:22.27.
Head coach Brian Gorby believes that it’s Rupe’s work ethic that sets him apart from other runners.
“I think the things that’s really changed from high school to now is his work ethic. In high school he was doing around 50 to 60 miles a week, which is a lot for high school. He’s now running 120 miles a week. I think he ran 124 miles last week,” Gorby said. “He has a streak of 2,500 days in a row where he’s never missed a day. I’ve been on trips where we were getting in late on an eight or 10 hour drive, and we had to get him into the hotel so he could go in and do a two or three mile run just to keep his streak going, whether he’s sick or whatever. That kind of tells you a lot about Eric.”
Like Rupe, McLean ended the season on a high note last year, finishing fifth in the Horizon League Championship. If he can stay healthy, McLean — who has missed two seasons during his college career due to injuries — is expected to experience success this year.
“Last year was great —came out, had a successful campaign. Just looking to get my mileage up and, based off being healthy, just go out there and have fun with it,” McLean said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do the same thing this year, maybe a little more. Maybe second, maybe third. Something around there.”
Coach Gorby has been highly impressed by McLean’s development as a runner, explaining that McLean could be the best finisher in school history.
“He’s probably the greatest finisher in the history of the program. You may think he’s out of it, but if he’s within 50 yards of you with 300 or 400 meters to go, he’s going to get you every single time. He basically has a kick that I’ve never seen,” Gorby said. “When it means something, he can dig down and he’s got some intestinal fortitude that’s stronger than any runner.”
McLean showed off this kick at last year’s Outdoor Horizon League Championship 5K race; he was able to pass four runners in the last 400 meters to finish the race in second, behind teammate Rupe.
McLean has caught the eye of the champion Rupe, who thinks McLean could beat him for the conference title this year.
“In high school [McLean] never ran cross country, but he just keeps getting better and better. He had some injury trouble but he’s in real good shape this year. He could beat me for the conference and that something I would be perfectly fine with,” Rupe said.
As two of the top runners in the conference, Rupe and McLean have tremendous respect for one another.
“Eric and I have a really good relationship on and off the track. He’s a great teammate to have. Our workouts are always together. He’s easy to work with,” McLean said. “We just know what to do together. We go out and it’s fluent. We don’t even talk to each other; we just go out and get it done.”
Throughout all of their accomplishments, one thing impresses Gorby most about Rupe and McLean — their leadership.
“Not only are Eric and Austin great runners, they are great leaders. I call both of them the glue of the team. They just bring everybody together. Through the good, the bad, they’re always pretty much picking everybody up and not letting anybody get down — things that you need from your top runners,” Gorby said.
The Penguins are projected to be one of the top teams in the conference this season, but winning the conference will be no easy task as Oakland University and the University of Detroit are both poised to have strong seasons as well.
“It’s just nice to be talked about again,” Gorby said.