By Joe Scalzo
For more than a decade, Youngstown State competed against Butler in cross country, which is sort of like competing against “Saturday Night Live” in sketch comedy or newspapers in delivering quality local news to your doorstep/hedges/birdcage.
Before leaving the conference after the 2011-12 season, Butler’s men won 14 straight Horizon League titles while the women won nine of the previous 10.
The Bulldogs’ dominance forced Penguins track and cross country coach Brian Gorby to focus his recruiting away from distance runners (where he had built his success in the Mid-Continent Conference) to other events.
With Butler gone, YSU is again gunning for the top spot. It’s just going to take some time.
“We are a very young team,” said sophomore Nick Gliha, the team’s best runner. “We’re hoping in the next two years, we’ll be strong enough to attack the second or third spot in the conference.
“It’s just a momentum thing. The coaches are recruiting better kids and I really appreciate the kids that have taken that step to come here and work and not just walk toward a school that’s already great.”
Gliha won the 3200-meter title in 2009 to help his high school, Garfield Heights Trinity, capture the team championship at the state track meet. He placed 31st at last year’s Horizon League meet but couldn’t translate his strong practice times into meets. He finally broke through last month at the Notre Dame Invitational, dropping his 8K time by almost 21/2 minutes to finish in 25:22.
“It was a breakout PR [personal record],” said Gliha, who is battling bronchitis this week but plans to run. “My freshman year was a major adjustment, getting used to the new distance, and I wasn’t hitting the times the other kids I competed against in high school.
“Running is 90 percent mental and I just reminded myself to stay positive.”
It was also a strong meet for two Penguin freshmen, as freshman Kyle Joynes (McDonald) cut his best time by 90 seconds and Jon Hutnyan (Canfield) dropped 21/2 minutes.
“We’re hoping to take fourth at conference,” Gliha said. “If we can do that and I can get top 14, which is second team all-conference, we’d be very satisfied with the year.”
YSU’s women are aiming higher, although not quite as high as they were a few weeks ago. With senior Samantha Hamilton (Jackson-Milton) redshirting so she can run a fifth year, the Penguins relied on junior Anna Pompeo (Poland) as their No. 1.
But Pompeo recently suffered a stress fracture in her femur, leaving her doubtful for this weekend’s meet in Milwaukee. Without those two, the Penguins don’t have five runners capable of defeating league-favorite Loyola.
“Next year we’re going to look really good,” said junior Monica Ciarniello, a Lowellville High graduate who transferred from Edinboro and will take over Pompeo’s top spot this weekend. “We’ll have Sam, Anna and me and we’re all improving and then [sophomores] Katie Heney and Brittany Stockmaster, plus [senior] Nelly Yegon always pulls through at championships and we’ve already recruited four freshmen from Poland that are really good.
“So, next year we should do really well. But this year, I’m not sure where we stand. I think we’re just going for experience and to keep dropping our times and set us up for next season.”