YSU reaches goal with Horizon title

Special to Tribune Chronicle The Youngstown State University men’s cross country team won the Horizon League Championship on Oct. 29. Team members include Aaron Benka, Alan Burns, Mike Dahmen, Tristan Dahmen, Dylan Dombi, Derek Morrison, Mike Navratil, James Nedrich, Justin Reynolds, Jon Richmond, Ryan Sullivan and Ethan Wilson, along with head coach Brian Gorby and assistant coach Eric Rupe.

YOUNGSTOWN — Ethan Wilson saw his own progress.

He came into the Youngstown State University men’s cross country program from nearby Laurel High School in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Wilson had hip issues which required surgery his freshman season.

Running 20 to 25 miles a week was all he knew. After surgery, he increased his mileage to 70 to 80 miles per week. He eventually went from running 30 minutes in an 8K race his freshman campaign to 25 this season.

His awakening at YSU came at the Horizon League championship race in Kenosha, Wisconsin, his sophomore year — when he finished fourth on the team.

“Right then and there, ‘This is what I need to do,’ “ Wilson, now a senior, said.

On Oct. 29, he and his Penguin teammates had a revelation of their own. After three straight runner-up titles, YSU beat out UIC, 48 to 68, back at Kensoha.

YSU junior and Howland graduate Ryan Sullivan led the Penguins with a third-place finish (25:14).

Wilson, who like Sullivan was a first-team, all-league honoree, took eighth (25:57), while YSU junior and Boardman graduate Alan Burns finished in 11th place (25:57).

Those three led the Penguins to the victory.

“We ran like we were born to run. We just stuck together,” Wilson said. “We knew what we had to do coming in.

“We ran for each other. I think that was the big thing. Cross country isn’t an individual sport. It is a team. We ran together. We ran for each other and for Youngstown.”

Horizon League Freshman-of-the-Year Tristan Dahmen, a Maplewood graduate, was in 12th place (26:21). Junior Dylan Dombi took 14th  (26:21). Burns, Dahmen and Dombi were all second-team honorees.

James Nedrich took 34th place, while Mike Dahmen (Maplewood) was in 39th place.

“It really truly was a team effort. It wasn’t a bunch of guys running, getting points,” YSU coach Brian Gorby said.

This wasn’t a natural progression for the Penguins. They eventually came up with this title with hard off-season work, assistant coach Eric Rupe said.

“You get through the ups and the downs of the season,” Rupe said. “If you can stay with an even mindset through that, then you get to a championship scenario and you’re ready for anything. When things aren’t going your way through the race, you’re ready for that. When things are going your way, you’re ready to pounce on the opportunity.”

Burns said when he and Sullivan were recruited, building a championship was something he heard from Gorby, who was this year’s Horizon League Cross Country Coach of the Year.

YSU rallied this season after losing the Horizon League championship to Oakland the previous two seasons by one point each time.

“That was coach Gorby’s recruiting tool,” Burns said. “It’s about time we build a championship team. That’s what we’re striving for.”

The cross country championship completed a Horizon League triple crown. YSU won the indoor and outdoor track and field titles this calendar year.

“It’s so special for us because we’re all distance runners,” Sullivan said. “We train with each other year round. Coming so close last year was hard because we think of each other as family.

“We end up losing some family members to graduation.  It’s almost heartbreaking to not win a conference championship, especially their senior year. This year is probably the best I felt, winning a conference championship.”