The Youngstown State men's and women's cross country teams open their 2017 campaign on Saturday morning in a race hosted by Duquesne. The men's team is coming off a 2016 Horizon League Championship while the women were fourth a year ago. Saturday's Duquesne Duals is set to start at 9 a.m. at the Schenley Oval.
The men's team returns six runners who helped the Penguins win the Horizon League title a year ago. Ryan Sullivan (third), Alan Burns (11th), Dylan Dombi (14th), James Nedrich (35th), Justin Reynolds (44th) and Derek Morrison (85th) are back from last year's title team.
The program had a very successful year placing a school-best 15th at the NCAA Regionals, claiming the first men's Horizon League Cross Country title in school history and earning a top-10 ranking in the Regional poll for the first time during the regular season.
After sitting out the first two races of the campaign, Sullivan was the top finisher in the final four meets for YSU, including a victory at the UB Stampede. His time of 31:20 in the 10K at the Great Lakes Regional set a school record. Burns was strong in the early portion of the year before a foot injury slowed him after the Horizon League Championships. Dombi made an impact transferring to YSU from Heidelberg and was the one of three YSU runners in top 14 at the league meet. Nedrich ran in every race last year.
Newcomers to the program this year include Derek Basinger (Girard, Ohio), Anthony Linert (Austintown, Ohio), Cole Lovett (Carrollton, Ohio), Sean Peterson (Berea, Ohio) and Tyler Polman (Independence, Ohio). Lovett and Polman were two of top cross country runners in Ohio last fall. Polman placed third at the Division III Ohio State Cross Country Championships with a time of 15:43.1 while Lovett finished third at the Ohio Divison II State Championships with a time of 15:45 in 2016.
The women's team will have a new look in 2017 as the top four finishers from last year's Horizon League squad do not return. YSU has a good mix of newcomers and returners who will look to take over at the top of the lineup.
Runners who were part of the program last year who return are Michelle Klim, Morgan Ansell, Suzanne Koziol, Heaton O'Hara and Erin Pavick. Katie Hackos brings some experience having run distance events for the Penguins this past year. Shelby Pontera ran in the fall of 2015 before redshirting last year. Newcomers to the squad include Grace Ayers (Leetonia, Ohio), Natalie Fleming (Peninsula, Ohio), Xena Maali (North Lima, Ohio), Raquel Markulin (Canfield, Ohio), Ashleigh Rowley (Berlin Center, Ohio) and Nicole Squatrito (Jefferson, Ohio).
Klim had a solid season last year finishing 16th at the Horizon League Championships and was one of two Penguins to run at the Great Lakes Regional. Ansell ran in five of the six races and placed 43rd at the league meet. Koziol competed in every race before finishing 53rd at the HL meet. Pavick also ran in every event finishing 73rd at the conference championships.
Rowley finished 11th at the Ohio Division III Cross Country Championships in 2016 after placing ninth as a junior in 2015.
The Penguins will compete in seven events in 2017. YSU has meets in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, D.C., Florida, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin. YSU is running in the George Mason Invitational for the first time in school history and is scheduled to return to the Disney World Classic in Orlando for the fourth time in the past five years. The Horizon League Championships are Oct. 28 in Rochester, Mich., with Oakland serving as the host school.