By Joe Scalzo
Familiarity may breed contempt, but when Samantha Hamilton was a runner at Jackson-Milton High, she grew to dislike Boardman’s cross country course for a much simpler reason:
Her times often stunk.
“If you asked [YSU teammate] Monica [Ciarniello], she loved it because she always kicked my butt at Boardman in high school,” Hamilton said, laughing.
“Boardman wasn’t always good to me,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to change that.”
Hamilton enters Saturday’s Horizon League championship at Boardman in the midst of the best season of her career.
She’s already broke school records in the 5K (16:52.67 at the Bowling Green Invitational on Sept. 13) and the 6K (20:41 at the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19) and is favored to capture her first league title this weekend. Hamilton has finished in the top 11 at the Horizon meet every year, including a personal-best third two years ago.
No Penguin has won a Horizon League title since YSU joined in 2001. (West Branch grad Lisa Davies came closest, finishing second in 2003.) YSU’s last individual league champion was Laura Thomas, who won the Mid-Con title in 1997.
“It’s been a long time since someone’s done that [at YSU] and I’ve never won a cross country championship, so that will be something cool to walk away with if I’m lucky enough to make that happen,” Hamilton said.
YSU’s last women’s team title also came in 1997. With Hamilton, senior Anna Pompeo (who would have broken YSU’s 6K record at Pre-Nationals if Hamilton hadn’t done it first) and Ciarniello (who finished a team-best 11th at last year’s Horizon meet), the Penguins were the odds-on favorites going into the season.
But with Ciarniello battling injuries, it’s become a much tougher task.
“With her [Ciarniello], it was looking really good on paper,” said Hamilton, who redshirted last season. “Now I think it’s going to be a dogfight.
“We’ve been kind of flip-flopping with Oakland for a regional ranking, so I think it’s going to come down to who has a better day.”
YSU’s biggest edge? Home-course advantage. The Penguins practice on Boardman’s course at least once a week and will have the bulk of the fans behind them.
“We definitely have that advantage,” Hamilton said. “We know where it gets hard, we know where it’s downhill and where it’s uphill.
“The course has changed a lot. Boardman was a tough, gritty course when I was in high school but they’ve cleaned it up a little bit, taking out some bad turns and making the finish a little bit better. Hopefully the weather is nice, a lot of people come out and we come back with a win.”