Back on track
Girard grad Harden returns to lead YSU again
YOUNGSTOWN — It wasn’t your normal “outdoor” track meet — then again the last year has been everything but normal for Collin Harden.
The Girard High School grad turned Youngstown State star didn’t know if he was going to come back to school after the COVID-19 pandemic ended the sports season last year, just weeks after Harden and his team won the Horizon League indoor track title.
He made his return to the track a few weeks ago at North Carolina State, but his homecoming Saturday afternoon proved unusual.
Instead of showing off his speed at Farmers National Bank Field, frigid temperatures forced the running, jumps and pole vault all indoors within the Watson and Tressel Training Site — throwing events were still held outdoors in the Smokey Hollow neighborhood.
“It was a quote, unquote, weird meet, but as long as I’m out here with my team, that’s all that really matters,” Harden said following his events. “It is unfortunate that we had to run inside, but for our safety and just to keep everyone healthy, we ran it inside, and I’m definitely thankful for that.”
Competing in a pair of events as he recovers from shin splints, Harden won the 200-meter dash on Friday with a time of 21.89, and placed second in the 100 at 10.94, finishing behind Warren F. Kennedy graduate and YSU standout Chad Zallow (10.86), who ran unattached.
Times from the meet, which included Akron, Kent, and Ashland won’t be counted toward nationals, however, due to the running events taking place indoors.
“He’s always going to be competition, no matter if he’s here or at a different meet,” Harden said about Zallow. “He’s just a different caliber athlete to where he’s just on a different level, and I’m striving to be on that level too.
“So, having him out here with me is definitely a good thing for both of us.”
It hasn’t been an easy road over the last year for Harden. Not being sure if he could return for another outdoor season, the sprinter turned to distance running for preparation last summer with track facilities not being open.
For about two months, Harden ran miles every day, along with other upper body strength training exercises such as pullups and pushups. He got back to sprinting when he made the decision to return to the polyurethane track.
Starting from his residence, he ran all around the north side of Youngstown near campus in and around Wick and Crandall parks.
“It kept my mentality good,” Harden said. “So, just the fact that if I was done last season, then I wasn’t mentally done, even physically because I was still working.
“So, I’m just going to keep going until I can’t go anymore.”
He plans on participating in the 100, 110 hurdles, 400, 400 hurdles and, possibly, the 200 at the Horizon League meet in May.
Harden qualified for the NCAA National meet back in 2019, finishing 22nd overall in Austin, Texas, on a nationally-televised broadcast. He was an Honorable Mention All-American for his performance.
Harden is the only male sprinter in league history to win the 400 hurdles three times, along with owning a school-record time of 50.52 set during the NCAA East preliminaries during the 2019 campaign.
With one last opportunity to defend his title, Harden is ready for the road ahead this spring after having to watch from the sidelines during indoor season.
“It takes a toll on an athlete’s mind, since you can’t run and you just have to watch your team,” he said. “You just think about how I wish I could have been out there running, so it definitely took a toll on my mind.”
The Youngstown State men’s and women’s track and field programs are coming off of league victories during indoor season, and look to defend in May the outdoor titles they earned back in 2019.
They’ll next travel to Miami, Florida, to complete in the Hurricane Alumni Invitational this weekend, facing off against Power 5 teams. The Horizon League outdoor championships host site is chosen on a rotation, with this year being YSU’s turn. The meet will take place May 7-9.