Down to the final 1,000 meters in the 8k race at Boardman High School on Saturday, the countdown to glory began.
Eric Rupe, a junior at Youngstown State University, whispered softly to himself, “800 meters to go, 600 meters to go, 400 meters to go.”
Glancing back, he then saw he had 100 meters left. That’s when he knew he had it.
“30 meters, 15 meters,” the crowd screamed.
Rupe crossed the finish line before anybody else, becoming the first YSU runner to win the race.
Rupe finished first out of 78 runners with a time of 25:41. The win helped the men finish second behind the University of Detroit Mercy by 39 points in the Horizon League Championship.
“When we found out we got second, it was such a huge upset for us,” Rupe said. “We were ecstatic when we found out that we got second. It was just a great feeling in front of the home crowd.”
The next Penguin behind Rupe was sophomore Austin McLean (26:04) who finished fifth. McLean missed the top three by 10 seconds and fourth by less than a second.
“My goal going in was definitely top five, and I hit my goal,” McLean said. “My goal was to just hang onto Eric because I knew that he was in great shape. I knew he was going to go for the title. My goal was to hang on to him and let the cards fall.”
Saturday was also a special day for McLean in another aspect.
McLean had missed all of last year with a tibia stress fracture and was redshirted. He also never ran in high school because the program did not offer cross country.
“I got really injured, and my femur started to crack, so I was out all of last year,” he said. “Eric was redshirted as well, so we didn’t really have the team together until year.”
Rupe said without McLean, the Penguins probably would have finished where they were projected — fifth place.
Rupe and McLean made the First-Team All-League squad while junior Nick Gliha made Second-Team All-League. Gliha finished 12th with a time of 26:24.
Sophomore Jon Hutnyan finished 22nd (26:50) and freshman Jonathan Richmond placed 32nd (27:10). Sophomore Kyle Jones (27:28) and freshman Ethan Wilson (28:10) competed for the first time this season.
Next on the list is the Great Lakes Regional in Madison, Wis. The team will try to forget about Saturday for the time being, though it’s not the easiest thing to do.
“We definitely have not forgotten about it, but we’re refocusing our attentions,” Rupe said. “We all know we have another race left.”
The second-place finish is the first time ever the men have finished in the top two.
“It’s not going to leave our minds,” McLean said. “It was definitely a big day. Everything went right for us. We’re proud of each other.”