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Even windy weather can’t stop Penguins

CHICAGO

The incandescent glow of laptops and phones began to illuminate the quiet lull of a bus headed eastward toward Youngstown in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the final day of 2019.

Youngstown State University men’s basketball trainer Todd Burkey was busy watching seminars on his laptop to renew his certification.

Assistant coach Ethan Faulkner was intently analyzing Monday’s win over UIC as the Penguins go to 9-6 and 2-0 in the Horizon League, the only team to win two straight road wins to start this conference season.

This mode of travel, taking a bus back from Chicago wasn’t planned. It’s 2:42 a.m., as the YSU caravan of 30-plus people passed through the flatland of northwest Ohio on I-80 — about 3 hours from the downtown Youngstown campus.

Fly home arrive in Pittsburgh and drive back to downtown Youngstown, arriving by 2:30 a.m. That was the plan. Mother nature had other ideas.

The team, still reveling in its fourth win in five games, weren’t as fazed when the Southwest Airlines board read nothing but canceled for all flights. The Penguins were to take flight at 10:30 a.m., and be back in downtown by this time.

Funny how high winds can cause turbulence and quickly ground massive airplanes.

The team made it all the way to its gate B10 before they looked upward at the departing board peppered with canceled notices. The trip through TSA checkpoints was quicker than normal, only a two or three people deep. It was a Monday night at the smaller of two Chicago airports.

The YSU gathering in this Chicago airport eventually migrated back to the luggage pickup area. They were spread out, sitting on the outskirts of a baggage carousel. Most were mesmerized by the dim light emanating from their phones, almost calling like a siren song.

The grouping heard it was time to move, taking elevators to the fourth floor. They were to enter quietly and not say anything. Most passengers were scrambling for their luggage, trying to find accommodations for the evening — about 24 hours away from ushering in 2020. A representative from Southwest Airlines met with them on this upper level, brought the team a couple carts of their luggage, which was corralled and put back on the bus.

The 9-hour journey began.

The tour bus, which dropped the YSU masses off around 8:50 pm., central time (an hour behind us), wasn’t too far away from Midway Airport. Someone finally reached our bus driver, John, who is the best in the business from Campbell Bus Lines out of Slippery Rock, Pa. It’s no wonder the Penguins men’s and women’s request this road warrior who scoffs at the beastly conditions he faces on these Midwestern highways connecting most of Horizon League teams together.

John drove from Midway to a rest stop about 60 miles out of Youngstown, before the I-77 exit near Brecksville, arrived around 5 a.m. There he met another driver, who took the 30-plus people aboard home.

“That was a championship effort,” said YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun as the bus stopped at the travel plaza for a brief couple of minutes, directed to John.

Indeed.

Most were awake for the remaining hour as you heard the players in conversation on the bus, along with music trickling its sound toward the front of the bus. There, the coaches were still studying the UIC game and other facets, preparing for Saturday’s Cleveland State game, the end of a three-game road trip. The CSU game begins at 3 p.m.

The bus stopped at the dorms, dropped off the players who earned a well-deserved day off on Tuesday.

It was about 6:30 a.m. as the bus finally stopped in the back of the Beeghly Center.

This team has been on the road to Indianapolis and Chicago since late Friday morning. They not only endured and overcame two Horizon League opponents, but with a huge assist from their bus driver were able to mount a counter attack and not let Mother Nature win.

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