‘A Lot of Pride Here’: Success Spans All Sports at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University Athletics expanded its winning streak in 2022-2023, taking home the Horizon League’s McCafferty Trophy for excellence across all sports.

It was the second time YSU won the award in the past three years, having finished in a tie with Oakland University in 2020-2021.

On top of winning the McCafferty, YSU also took home the league’s Men’s All-Sports Award for the first time in program history. YSU placed second in the Women’s All-Sports Award, which was the first time both the men’s and women’s program were in the top two together.

All three awards were announced at a celebratory luncheon June 7 in Indianapolis.

“It’s awesome. It’s really a sense of pride, especially knowing how far we’ve come. We’ve finished in the top two the last three years and then we finished top five the last nine years. So, we’ve not only been able to win it but maintain success,” says Ron Strollo, executive director of YSU athletics.

The Horizon is the league in which most YSU teams compete (football competes in the Missouri Valley Conference). The university  won the McCafferty Trophy with 51 points across 19 championship sports – 4.5 points higher than second-place Oakland University. YSU finished 1.5 points behind Oakland for the Women’s All-Sports Award.

Points are awarded based on how well the team places in the regular season. There were three championships in men’s basketball, cross country, and track and field. Women’s tennis and track and field also won championships.

Championships contribute seven points to the McCafferty score and finishing higher in the regular season earns points as well.

Men’s tennis earned five points and baseball earned one. Women’s cross country and soccer teams earned five points each and women’s basketball and softball earned two points each.

Strollo says the success of all sports at YSU has been a lengthy work in progress.

“When we entered the Horizon League 20 years ago, we did not score well for this McCafferty Trophy. We were probably finishing eighth or ninth year after year,” Strollo says. The strength of the athletics department stems from getting better facilities, which attract better coaches, then coaches recruiting better student-athletes.

“Over time, all of that built up to the point where a lot of our teams’ brand is now recognized as having a quality program with good coaches and facilities,” Strollo says. “Now our kids are coming here and they’re having a good time on our campus and that message resonates out there in the sports world and that continues to strengthen our programs.”

The YSU men’s basketball team made program history by winning the regular season title, which contributed points toward the McCafferty Trophy and the Men’s All-Sports Award. Jerrod Calhoun, men’s head basketball, says the awards are an accomplishment for everyone involved – including the fans.

“For the university to be recognized for this award, it’s just a tremendous accomplishment for so many people,” Calhoun says. “You look at some of the crowds at the Beeghly Center and it created a huge home court advantage. We had really good momentum going into the conference and then won the league by one game, so it went down to the very last game. Just really proud of our fans, the players, and everyone that was involved.”

Calhoun says he and the team are working on continuing that momentum into the next season. With most of last year’s starting players graduating and 11 new players, there’s a lot of work to be done.

“We have an older team again. Last year we had a lot of seniors – this year is very similar. So, what we have to do is get a lot of really good high school guys and develop them and then get some older transfers that have played college basketball because they have the experience,” Calhoun says.

Calhoun says the trophies and awards certainly make YSU a more attractive option for recruiting and transfers, but it is the crowds and support that bring in more talent.

“When you put on the video, and you show them 6,000 fans at the last eight or nine games and you see all the other sport teams at your games supporting one another – that really resonates with players. Players want to play in front of great atmospheres and great crowds,” Calhoun says.

Even YSU teams outside of the Horizon league have been successful, including the football team, the bowling team and the lacrosse team. Strollo says the university and community support makes it easier to be winners.

“One thing about the Youngstown community is that there is a lot of pride here. That energizes people to support our programs more and especially with [Name, Image and Likeness deals] has opened more doors for our student-athletes as well,” Strollo says.

Women’s basketball student-athlete Mady Aulbach was there when YSU was announced winner of the Men’s All-Sports Award and the McCafferty Trophy. She is president of the Student-Athlete Advisory committees for YSU and the Horizon League.

The women’s basketball team has also maintained program success over the last few years. According to Aulbach, Youngstown’s size gives the university an underdog story.

“At the end of the day, Youngstown is a pretty small city compared to the other cities that schools in the Horizon League are in, like Detroit, Indianapolis or Cincinnati. For a school like Youngstown, I feel like we’re always kind of underdogs in a way,” Aulbach says. “It was cool to be there and accept the award for the success of all our sports and it makes me appreciate being a student-athlete here just that much more.”

Aulbach committed to YSU when she was a sophomore in high school and says she’s witnessed the women’s basketball program grow, become successful and maintain that success. She says the trophies only validate the hard work of everyone in the athletics program but it’s the people there that attract the talent that embody Youngstown values.

“People always say that Youngstown is the ‘city of grit,’ and the football team calls [the university] ‘Grit-U,’” Aulbach says. “You have to give it to the hard-working athletes, coaches, trainers and administrators that have been here to contribute to the growth.”

For Aulbach, YSU has also provided opportunities outside of the court and classroom. Last year, Aulbach and two other teammates were named the top earners in NIL deals in the Horizon League. YSU’s success opened doors to business opportunities that she says other schools and administrators aren’t taking advantage of.

“At the Horizon League [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] conference, we had a lot of discussions about NILs and we got to talk to other schools and their higher-ups about NILs. I realized how far ahead Youngstown is with using the resources we have and how much administrators at Youngstown really want us to be successful,” Aulbach says. “The success of all of our teams gets us noticed. But our administrators and compliance team set us up really well.”

Strollo says Penguin sports are a big sense of pride in the Valley and the goal is to maintain success and make YSU the best experience for students.

“I always tell our staff and our coaches that ultimately our goal is for them to say, ‘This is the best decision I could have made.’ And if we can stay focused on that, then we’re going to do the right thing. But a part of that sometimes is winning and walking away with championship rings,” Strollo says.