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A strong 1st impression

Mahoning Valley athletes, you’ve got our attention.

Another year has come and gone for our area’s athletes, but for nearly all of the writers in this outlet’s sports department, it was Year 1 in the Youngstown area.

Talk about a strong first impression.

In the fall, we were fortunate enough to see the Ursuline football make it all the way to the state championship game. Though the Irish came up just shy of the ultimate achievement to their stellar season, it was a pleasure to see the excitement that drew.

As it turns out, my very first Ohio high school football game was Ursuline’s season-opening shootout with Columbus Bishop Hartley, a 62-58 Irish win that ended on a last-minute defensive stand at midfield.

My first Youngstown State football game as a writer was a thriller, too. The Penguins opened their season on a Thursday night against Incarnate Word and topped the visiting Cardinals 44-41 in overtime on a Colt McFadden field goal. They only got that chance after driving 52 yards — most of which came on a catch-and-run from Jaleel McLaughlin — in under a minute to set up a McFadden field goal to end regulation.

Perhaps I should’ve known after those first games that the 2021-22 sports/academic year was going to be a special one.

If I wasn’t at Stambaugh for either Ursuline or YSU in the fall, then you most certainly would have seen me at Mollenkopf for either Harding or Warren JFK games. No matter where I was, though, one thing was clear: This area loves its football, and these communities support their programs. That’s something I hope to never take for granted when covering these schools, because the atmospheres have been the best of my writing career so far.

In the winter, my time was spent almost exclusively at the Beeghly Center covering YSU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs.

On the men’s side, it was impressive to see how the team rallied after Garrett Covington left the Penguins’ home opener with a ruptured achilles. Oftentimes, losing a fifth-year senior can spell disaster for a team. YSU ended up 19-15 and made the Basketball Classic field.

The nice thing is Covington will be returning for his sixth season. Between that, the return of Dwayne Cohill — who really impressed in his first season in Youngstown — and the collection of transfer additions Jerrod Calhoun has coming in, the 2022-23 season could be a lot of fun.

And speaking of transfer additions, John Barnes ended up hitting the transfer portal lottery last offseason with the addition of Lilly Ritz. She pieced together an All-Horizon League First Team season and became a centerpiece to a YSU squad that earned a share of the Horizon League regular-season crown and made the WNIT. They finished 24-7.

Ritz returns next season along with plenty of other talent, so I suspect the Penguin women also will be in for a fun 2022-23.

I did manage a couple high school basketball games — one each on the girls and boys side. My only girls game was a Canfield victory over Harding in the opening round of the postseason, while my boys game was Campbell Memorial’s exciting district title win over Jefferson. The gym at Howland that night was raucous, and Kevin Moore just about blew the top off the place with a second-half dunk and a 3-pointer that capped an 11-0 Red Devils’ run. There was little doubt in my mind Campbell was going to win after that.

Spring provided plenty of action, too. My first game was an impressive outing from Joe Roth as Austintown Fitch blanked Poland. In addition to some of his better outings, I covered an extra-inning softball game between Howland and West Branch that saw a total of 32 runs scored in a 17-15 West Branch win. It ended with a walk-off homer from Skyler Greeneisen — on her birthday, no less.

On the baseball side, Ursuline once again provided a thriller, this time in the form of a rally from 7-down to defeat archrival Cardinal Mooney.

And while all these games provided plenty of excitement in their own right, I think my favorite part of Year 1 was getting to know some of the coaches and student-athletes both at YSU and around our high schools. Each of them has a story, and it’s fun to get to tell them. Thanks to you, also, for reading along.

But, there are plenty more stories to tell as we roll into the summer and eventually the next sports year. If you have a tip or a story you think we should get to, please feel free to reach out. Our email is sports@tribtoday.com.

Thanks for a fun first impression, Mahoning Valley. Let’s have an even better second year.

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