Penguins looking like Maplewood south

YOUNGSTOWN — Looking at Youngstown State’s men’s cross country team you might think it’s more of a Maplewood High School south campus.

There are four former Rockets runners on the team — including one assistant coach — now representing the Penguins.

It started a few years ago when current assistant coach Eric Rupe transferred to YSU after realizing the University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) was not the right place for him in the fall of 2010.

He began at YSU later that fall and started training with the Penguins.

Rupe is now joined by freshman Tristan Dahmen, Mike Dahmen and Derek Morrison — all former Rockets runners.

Maplewood is the two-time Ohio high school Division III defending state cross country champion, led by Tristan Dahmen, who won the individual title the last two seasons.

“We’re getting a good connection now,” Rupe said. “They’re loaded for a couple of years. Hopefully we can get a feeder system and turn Maplewood into our farm system product or something like that.

“It’s good to see everyone sticking around.”

Tristan Dahmen said he’s glad he stuck around to be part of the Penguins team — a team which is the No. 1-ranked team in Ohio.

“It has a very similar atmosphere,” he said in comparing YSU to Maplewood. “Part of the reason I came here. Not only the Maplewood guys, but I get along with about everyone on the team. I could not ask for a better place than this.”

Mike, who is Tristan’s cousin, went to Lake Erie College and Cleveland State prior to coming to YSU. He saw the influx of local athletes, especially those from Maplewood, coming to the Penguins.

Even former competitors like Alan Burns (Boardman) and Ryan Sullivan (Howland) are with YSU.

“That’s how it’s been since Eric’s got here, keep local guys local,” Mike said. “We used to see Ryan and Alan all the time at meets, now we train with them. It’s great to keep that talent here.”

Half of the 12 Penguins on the roster are from Trumbull or Mahoning County, including senior Jon Richmond (Liberty).

“It’s great to take local powerhouses and combine them,” Morrison said. “You’re getting all this publicity in high school. When you combine all these guys together, it’s feels like you’re still at home.”

Rupe said the Penguins are targeting an 800- or 1,600-meter runner in their recruiting process.

As always, the priority is to go with the local talent and then spread out to other regions.

Finding local talent to come to YSU wasn’t as easy as it is now.

“It was hard to get them to stick around,” Rupe said. “I couldn’t blame them. We were bad. It’s nice to see guys stick around. Hopefully in years to come we get all the top guys in the area go to YSU. It’s more of an honor to be on the team, rather than go to YSU because I can’t go anywhere else.”