Track and field powers YSU athletics

YOUNGSTOWN — Brian Gorby has been in the midst of coaching the best track and field teams in the Horizon League.

He has the league’s best 110-meter hurdler and face of the Youngstown State men’s program — John F. Kennedy High School graduate Chad Zallow. He’s the Great Lakes Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year in the indoor and outdoor seasons — beating out athletes from Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, among others.

The women’s program has been the model of consistency, with four straight Horizon League outdoor championships. The women won the indoor title earlier in the year.

The men’s program won its second consecutive outdoor championship and completed the league’s triple crown by winning the cross country title in the fall and indoor crown in the winter.

It goes back to Mineral Ridge graduate Ryan Booth, who was a walk-on, dominating the shot put. Howland graduate Ryan Sullivan and Boardman graduate Alan Burns in the distance events. Chad and Carl Zallow in the sprints, along with Girard graduate Collin Harden in the 400 hurdles.

This men’s team is predicated on Mahoning Valley talent, not just area athletes but those sought after by Big Ten schools.

The women’s track and field team is powered by thrower Jaynee Corbett and sprinter Jaliyah Elliott, along with hurdlers Amber Eles and Taylor McDonald.

By winning five of their possible six league titles this year, YSU’s track and field and cross country teams are a big reason why the Penguins finished second as an athletic department in the league’s race for the McCaffery Trophy (Oakland was first).

The women won its side, edging the Golden Grizzlies by a half-point. The men finished behind Oakland and UIC. The only other time YSU finished second in the race was in 2013-14.

Other sports on the women’s side were tennis capturing the regular-season and postseason championships, softball finishing the Horizon League Tournament runners-up and golf placing second.

On the men’s side, tennis was second and advanced to the league semifinals, as did the men’s basketball team.

As for track and field, this is the best year for the Penguins programs.

“We won more championships than any other team,” Gorby said. “In our mind, we definitely feel we’re the best program in the Horizon League across the board when you have more championships than other people.”

No other Horizon League school has football, let alone a defending FCS National runner-up. Football is part of the Missouri Valley Football Conference — the best conference in the FCS.

This McCaffery placing goes to show the depth and well-rounded nature of the Penguins’ athletics program. People do think football first when they hear YSU, but that’s not all this athletic department is and will be for years to come.

You have a men’s basketball program, which could be poised to contend for Horizon League Championships in the next couple of years.

Then, the women’s basketball team should go back to battling Green Bay for that league title — barring any unforeseen injuries.

The depth of the track and field programs are amazing to say the least. There’s never a shortage of top-flight talent in northeast Ohio. Cross country is only getting stronger, especially since the men have a majority of its team returning this fall.

Golf and tennis teams are always strong. Volleyball and women’s soccer are making strides.

The women’s bowling team was nationally ranked in its first NCAA season, while the women’s swimming and diving team has produced some of the league’s better talent.

Gorby, who is also YSU’s cross country coach, is humble in his teams contribution to the McCaffery Trophy.

“We’re just a small piece of that,” he said. “We were able to be part of something more than just the track and field programs this year.”

It’s a bigger piece than Gorby says. The track and field has a lot to do with how strong YSU athletics are as a whole.