By Joe Scalzo
Last year, when Deadspin.com unveiled its “What the [heck] state is this college in?” rankings, Youngstown State was 16th.
While that seems a little high — the next two schools were Rider and Iona, for crying out loud — it’s a safe bet that few people at last weekend’s NCAA indoor track championships in Albuquerque, N.M., knew much about YSU.
Or about shot putter Bobby Grace.
“As I started warming up, I’d get in the ring and it’d be pretty quiet,” Grace said. “I could almost feel people were like, ‘Who is this? Youngstown State?’ And then after maybe my first or second throw, a few people started perking up and I saw some more video cameras coming out.
“It was pretty cool that as the series built, YSU and myself got some recognition.”
Grace, a senior from Middleburg Heights, entered the meet ranked ninth with a throw of 19.62 meters. His goal was to finish in the top eight to make the medal stand — he finished eighth at last year’s NCAA indoor meet while competing unattached — but because Grace didn’t start tapering his training until just before nationals, he felt confident he could do even better.
“I was trying to come out of nowhere to throw something big,” he said. “I knew I needed to get top eight to get All-American but, really, I just wanted to do my best. To put something out there that was as good as I could do.”
After fouling his first throw of the preliminaries, Grace threw 19.39 and 19.49 on his next two to enter the finals ranked third.
On his second throw of finals, he got the throw he was waiting for.
“Everything kind of lined up,” he said. “I felt like I was moving a lot faster than normal, but, technically, it felt just like a consistent throw. I think it was more of the adrenaline that pushed it out there.”
It was a 19.90, the best of his career.
“I was pumped,” said Grace, who was just the second Penguin to compete in the NCAA indoor championships behind Kurt Michaelis (2003). “I saw it come up on the screen and I knew it put me back into third, so it was exciting.”
Grace finished third behind Texas sophomore Ryan Crouser (21.21) and Cornell junior Stephen Mozia (20.06).
“It was really cool to kind of shock some people,” he said. “Down the road, it’ll be a big thing that I can put on my resume, especially next year doing the post-collegiate thing. Potential sponsors will be able to see that the big meet is where I did my best. Hopefully the same thing happens in outdoors.”
Grace, who will graduate in May with a business degree in management information systems, said his coaches deserve much of the credit for his success, specifically YSU throws coach Brent Shelby and trainers Willie Danzer and Brian Sklenar.
“They’ve all put in countless hours,” Grace said. “Through the summer, the winter, Christmas break, days that they should have had off.
“I owe a lot of it to them.”