By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University men’s cross-country team claimed its first Horizon League Championship in program history and snapped a 19-year drought.
The 1996 season was the last time the men’s cross-country team won a conference title, when YSU was a part of the Mid-Continent Conference.
YSU’s Ryan Sullivan said the team’s goal this season was to win the conference championship since the team has gone almost 20 years without a title.
The Penguins finished with a final score of 48, the University of Illinois at Chicago finished in second with a score of 68 and Northern Kentucky University came in third with a score of 116.
“This year was kinda the window,” YSU head coach Brian Gorby said. “We knew that we had a pretty good window. Most of these guys [are] coming back. This was the window that we would be able to get the monkey off our back after 20 years.
“We’ve been chasing this one, and it’s just a phenomenal feeling — after missing by a point, missing by six points and missing by eight points — to see our kids taking care of business.”
Junior Ryan Sullivan was the Penguins’ top runner on Saturday with a time of 25:14.4. Sullivan finished in third place. Senior Ethan Wilson also finished in the top 10. Wilson came in eighth with a time of 25:57.1.
The Penguins had five runners finish in the top 15. YSU was the only school to finish with three runners or more in the top 15. Juniors Alan Burns and Dylan Dombi, 11th and 13th, and freshman Tristan Dahmen finished 12th.
The Penguins finished in the top three in each of the last four conference meets. The Penguins lost to Oakland University by one point last season. YSU finished in third place in 2014 and second place in 2013.
YSU’s track and field team won the indoor and outdoor titles during the spring. With the cross-country championship, YSU’s men’s team won its first triple crown since 1996.
YSU’s last race will be the Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 11. This week’s rankings have the Penguins at 14 in the region. Gorby said the team’s goal is to finish in the top eight in the race. He said he’d be surprised if YSU finished in the top five and advanced to nationals.
Burns said the team will take the same approach in the regionals as it had throughout the season. He said the team is excited to prove it could compete with bigger programs and make a name for itself against national programs like Wisconsin and Michigan State.
“We have big goals for ourselves. There’s some schools that are real tough. They’re high up in the national rankings and are very hard to beat,” Burns said. “But there’s also schools like Ohio State [University], Notre Dame [University] and other big schools, that for us, we’re putting a big target on their back.
“For us it’s going out and trying to prove that YSU can run with the big schools. We’re not just a small DI school. We’re capable of competing with anyone in the race.”