After year off, YSU’s Sullivan breaks cross country school record

After year off, YSU’s Sullivan breaks school record

By Brian Dzenis

Ryan Sullivan put the real world on hold and is reaping the benefits.

After the Howland native was part of Youngstown State’s first men’s cross country title in 2016, coach Brian Gorby had an odd request for the then-junior and three of his teammates.

Gorby had his eyes set winning one more title with Sullivan two years later. That would mean Sullivan would have to redshirt and stay at YSU for another year even though he has his eyes set on pharmacy school.

“We all looked around and our parents had some different ideas about it. They wanted us to get jobs and move on,” Sullivan said. “For us seniors, it was pretty easy. I think we answered the next day.

“We all loved this program, the university, the staff and it was a no-brainer when given the opportunity to come back for a fifth year.”

Sullivan along with Alan Burns, James Nedrich and Dylan Dombi bought in with Gorby’s gambit. It worked as the Penguins head into this weekend’s NCAA Great Lakes Regional as Horizon League champions after Sullivan broke a 20-year school-record with a time of 24 minutes, 27.4 seconds while finishing second individually.

Gorby took a look around the league after the 2016 championship and figured his chances of repeating weren’t great going against an Oakland team that not only looked like the favorite, but a national title contender.

“We were losing people to graduation and we had to fill [the lineup]. Gorby said. “We would have been relying on freshmen who would be taking 66th or 67th place and that’s not good enough.”

With the four seniors redshirting, he could develop younger runners and still have his heavy hitters in 2018.

The Penguins ate the down year in 2017, finishing last in the Horizon League tournament as a team.

“It played a pivotal role. Going from first to last to first, it was a big learning year for the freshmen. It really allowed them to grow,” Sullivan said. “They could really contribute this year because they knew what to do on the course. We were able to create a powerhouse because of that ordeal.”

Sullivan isn’t wasting time in the classroom with the extra year, pairing biology with chemistry as a dual-major to beef up his resume.

While having a school record that projects to a competitive finish at regional is great, Sullivan’s finest highlight this season involved a 41st-place finish. On Oct. 13, Sullivan completed the majority of the 2018 Wisconsin Pre-Nationals with one shoe on.

In the biggest regular season meet for the team, Sullivan and Burns were in a pack with about 200 runners when a nearby runner tripped and while Burns was helping him up, the opponent caught the heel of Sullivan’s double-knotted shoe 800 meters into the race, leaving one shoe fitting like a flip-flop.

“Here I am in the biggest race of the year and I have half a shoe, I ask Alan, ‘What do I do?’ and he says I have to run through it,” Sullivan said. “We’re gasping for air while having this conversation.”

At about five kilometers, Sullivan flipped the hanging shoe to assistant coach Eric Rupe. Other than a loss of traction, Sullivan fared OK with one shoe for the final 3K.

“I think it actually helped. I was nervous because it was a big race with big names and instead I was worried about what I was going to do with my shoe,” Sullivan said. “I used it as fuel. If I let this small inconvenience ruin my race, it’ll hurt the team. It made me grit my teeth and pass some people.

“I could have passed a few more if I had my shoe.”

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