Curbstone: YSU AD Strollo offers insight into Penguins’ program
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — Over the past three years, Youngstown State University has either won, shared or finished as runner-up for the Horizon League’s McCafferty Award, awarded annually to the league’s all-sports champion.
As defending champions, Penguin executive director of athletics Ron Strollo is hoping for a title defense when all sports wrap up in May.
“It is a great feeling to be the outright champion,” Strollo told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s first luncheon of the season at Avion Banquet Center. “It’s always tough to repeat but we feel we are up to the challenge in both our men’s and women’s league sports.”
The YSU football team is coming off an impressive showing at Ohio State this past weekend, as the Buckeyes won 35-7 at The Horseshoe.
“It was a great opportunity for our kids and an excellent opportunity for them to test themselves against the very best in the country,” Strollo said. “They had the opportunity to play in front of 100,000-plus fans and it was a huge thing for our brand as a football program (and) our brand as an institution. All week long you saw the hype when you turned on ESPN or Fox Sports and they were previewing the weekly top-20 schedules. A lot of positive things came out of this game.
“Also, we brought a lot of fans down to Columbus. Head coach Doug Phillips has done a really good job of recruiting kids and building a culture. We have depth and some excellent players, so I am really excited about this team moving forward.”
In addition to football, Strollo mentioned the starts this fall by YSU’s women’s volleyball and soccer teams, and both its men’s and women’s cross country teams.
“Soccer is off to its best start in program history and while women’s volleyball got off to a slow start, they will be in conference play shortly after they meet Akron and Kent State later this week,” he said. “Our men’s cross-country team is the Horizon League preseason No. 1 while our women are ranked No. 2. Coach Brian Gorby continues to do a great job, so our fall sports are well underway.”
The winter sports season has been highly anticipated by area fans for a variety of reasons.
“We return a nice group of players on the women’s (basketball) side but on the men’s (basketball) side, look for a lot of new faces and a lot of height we just haven’t been used to seeing,” Strollo said. “There are a few 7-foot kids that you will see on the court and they play the game quite well. The team had a chance to go to Spain this summer, got three games under its belt and went 3-0 against good teams so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them as a preseason top two or three pick. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding both basketball programs right now so it should be a fun hoop season.
“Then, swimming is coming off arguably its best two seasons on the men’s and women’s side and we expect them to continue to grow. The men finished third and women fourth a season ago, and hopefully they’ll continue to crawl up the standings in the Horizon League. Our bowling team returns everyone to a team that ended the season ranked No. 7 overall in the RPI standings. We have a chance to make some noise, plus head coach Doug Kuberski has a couple of recruits coming in that he feels can crack the lineup.”
Strollo said the transfer portal and its Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) programs have worked out well for YSU.
“It has been a positive thing for us,” he said. “Quite frankly, it has allowed us to kind of flip the charts a little bit on some of the blue bloods in our conference and helped us immensely. It has helped our student-athletes while allowing us to change our brand a bit on the national scene.
“The Penguin Collective that was started and our men’s basketball program have gotten a lot of national attention because of the strides we’ve made. It has also allowed us to bring in some really talented players.”
Strollo said two projects that began last year are now completed and up and running.
“We just finished the DiBacco Family classroom in Stambaugh Stadium and interim-President [Helen] Lafferty spoke to the entire football team before they boarded the buses for Ohio State,” Strollo said. “The Korandovich Family Training Facility in Beeghly Center, which is a state-of-the-art athletic training center, was completed and we received the keys just two weeks ago.
“Our next big project is replacing the seats in Beeghly Center so we are fundraising for that project right now, which hopefully happens next year.”
Academically, all YSU student-athletes last year combined to post a 3.44 cumulative grade point average with a league-leading 167 student-athletes named to the Horizon League Academic Honor Roll (3.20 or above).
Women’s bowling posted the highest grade point average in the nation (3.81) last year, women’s golf was fourth overall in Division I, and tennis led all men’s sports with a 3.62 overall ccumulative GPA.
Next Monday, YSU head football coach Doug Phillips will serve as guest speaker.