YSU caps its best sports week in a LONG time


« Penguin Insider

by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins."   | 155 entries

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1. Was this the best week for YSU sports in the 21st century?

Consider this:

- Youngstown State's volleyball team is 5-2, matching its 2011 win total in 22 fewer games.

- The Penguins' women's soccer team is 4-0 for the first time in school history and has already bested its 2011 win total in 13 fewer games.

- Oh, and you might have heard: the football team is 1-0.

Less than two years ago, I wrote a story about how Youngstown State athletics finished last or second-to-last in the conference in every single team sport in the 2010 calendar year.

Now the school is coming off solid men's basketball and softball seasons and should be headed for a decent year in women's basketball. A few struggling programs remain (baseball being the most obvious one) but things are looking up.

2. Athletic director Ron Strollo has come under fire from YSU fans over the past few years for the school's lack of success and his coaching misfires (Tisha Hill and Cindy Martin in women's basketball, Rich Pasquale in baseball, to name three) but, to his credit, he had a plan and stuck with it.

Strollo believes success comes down to two things: money and recruiting. And he felt the reason YSU wasn't competitive was because its facilities weren't good enough to attract recruits to a campus that doesn't have a great reputation outside of the Mahoning Valley. So he poured millions from the athletic budget into upgrading locker rooms, offices and athletic facilities, believing if he just stayed patient, the upgrades would attract better coaches and better players.

For the plan to work, the football team had to win. Unlike the other Horizon League schools, YSU puts all its eggs in the football basket. And as the Penguins stumbled in Eric Wolford's first year, then lost a heartbreaker against Missouri State in last year's finale, Strollo knew YSU missed out on a huge opportunity to build up its fan base and its booster club.

When I talked to him after Saturday's win over Pitt, he sounded like a man who knew he had finally turned a corner.

3. YSU is offering 2-for-1 tickets for Saturday's Valparaiso game but there's a catch: To get the deal, you have to buy them on Monday. The Penguins are hoping to use the momentum from the Pitt win to draw a big crowd this weekend.

It would help if they had a better opponent -- last year's Valparaiso game was as uncompetitive a football game as I've ever seen -- but with Ohio State playing at noon and Youngstown State playing at 4, the potential is there for a big crowd.

4. Former YSU defensive lineman Torrance Nicholson busted my chops for predicting the right score for the Pitt game (31-17) but the wrong team winning.

Truth is, while I felt YSU had a decent chance of winning, I never thought the Penguins could win by two touchdowns. I'm just as stunned as everyone else.

5. The first person I saw after the game ended was offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery, whose play-calling was so masterful against the Panthers that the Heinz Field elevator operator took time to compliment him.

I've written this before: He's Eric Wolford's best assistant coach and has no business being at the FCS level. I can't believe a bigger program hasn't lured him away yet.

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