By Greg Gulas
Led by Anna Pompeo’s second-place finish (18:02.01) and three runners that placed in the top five, Youngstown State’s women (36 points) easily outdistanced Illinois-Chicago (58) to capture the school’s first ever Horizon League cross county championship, held Saturday at Boardman High School.
With Eric Rupe (25:41.24) taking top honors in the men’s division, the Penguins (72) finished runners-up to the University of Detroit-Mercy (33), a five-place improvement from their seventh-place finish a season ago.
It’s easy to understand why there was a very YSU flavor to this year’s league championships.
“I’m still in shock yet at the same time, very happy with my finish. We had plenty of hometown support and that was the key,” Pompeo said. “Being able to practice on this course throughout the fall really helped us as a team. I wanted to keep pace with [eventual winner] Tess Ehrhardt (Illinois-Chicago), but she just ran a phenomenal race.”
Pompeo finished in 18:02.01 while teammates Samantha Hamilton (fourth, 18:20.86); McKinsie Klim (fifth, 18:39.09); Brittany Stockmaster (12th,19:12.21) and Elizabeth Rozenski (13th, 19:14.93) rounded out YSU’s scoring.
For her efforts, Klim was named the league’s “Most Outstanding Freshman.”
“I really didn’t know what to expect and had no idea where I stood during the race, so to earn this honor is truly humbling. The exciting thing is that we won it all as a team and it was our first ever league title,” Klim said. “We were definitely prepared mentally.”
Considered one of the fastest in the men’s field, Rupe’s strategy was to start out slow and increase his position throughout the race.
“I felt like I had a decent kick so I started out back in the pack, wanting to work my way up to the leaders around the two-mile mark. My goal at the four-mile mark was to be by the leaders and when I approached the hill, just take off and sprint as fast as I could,” Rupe said. “There were a few slick spots on the course due to the weather, but I was able to use my markers the rest of the way, especially during the last 1,000 meters.”
Wright State’s Dan Shafer (25:50.51), a Painesville Harvey High School graduate, finished runner-up while Austin McLean (26:04.61), who earned a fifth-place finish, was YSU’s highest finisher after Rupe.
Shafer is no stranger to the Boardman Spartans’ home course.
“While in high school I had the chance to run this course five or six different times and this was definitely the driest it has ever been, despite today’s rain,” Shafer said. “As a team we knew that Rupe would make a big move late and he did exactly that at the four-mile mark. Mentally, I knew it was coming so when he got a 25-meter lead on me I knew it would be tough to catch him. I just wanted to finish strong and get the lowest amount of points for my team.”
McLean said chemistry played a big part in YSU’s improvement from a season ago.
“Our chemistry has been through the roof this year. While mud was a factor for everyone, knowing the course did present an advantage for us; especially with such a competitive field,” he said.
Ehrhardt, a junior, felt second or third would be an acceptable finish.
“I didn’t care about pace, just place,” she said. “I wanted to run with or behind the leader, yet toward the front of the pack. I took a chance and it just worked out today for me.”
YSU coach Brian Gorby, who has now led the Penguins to a combined 19 cross country, indoor or outdoor track and field championships, was named women’s “Coach of the Year.”
“I am totally elated with both of our teams’ efforts today. We had no one on the men’s side place in the top 14 a year ago, so with three runners in the top 12 this year is a tremendous improvement,” he said. “We ran smart and knowing the course was a real benefit.
“As for the women, we felt that being at home would be an advantage since we had beaten these teams two weeks ago at the Pre-Nationals, and then at Notre Dame. Also, you have to credit assistant coaches Nicole Strollo and Scott Denham because they were a big reason for our success this season.”
Detroit-Mercy coach Guy Murray earned men’s “Coach of the Year” laurels while Jacob Bowman (26:22.17) earned male “Freshman of the Year” honors for his 10th-place finish.