Maplewood runners always in contention

Maplewood. It’s synonymous with all things cross country. It is the school’s football — the dominant sport.

Entrenched in an area where football is hyped more times than not, the Rockets are one of a handful of schools in Trumbull County without a football team. The difference is those others are not Maplewood boys cross country.

These Rockets have seven state championships dating back to 1972 when the living legend Ted Rupe helped bring home the school’s first state title. He then mentored a couple more Maplewood teams to state glory at Scioto Downs, the former site of the state cross country meet.

I would like the OHSAA to have a better site for its state championship than a drag strip, where it’s currently held in Hebron.

Maplewood finished second at last week’s Suburban League Championships in Canfield. The Rockets were the defending champs there, but finished second to McDonald.

The Rockets finished last season with a third-place finish at state in Division III, disappointing for Maplewood since it was going for a third-straight state title and eighth in school history.

Seniors Ethan Sparks and Adam Burgard return to lead this Rockets team, one which is improving heading into Tuesday’s Trumbull County meet at Maplewood High School. The boys varsity race starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by the girls at 6 p.m. The junior high races precede the varsity races.

It’ll be Maplewood and McDonald vying for the boys team title Tuesday. The Rockets aren’t thinking they need to worry about expectations slipping. This is a proud program. The rebuilding word is not in their vocabulary.

Maplewood is still ranked in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches state poll, but at seventh in Division III. Leesburg Fairfield, East Canton and Fort Loramie are likely fighting for this year’s state crown, but that doesn’t mean Maplewood won’t be at National Trail Raceway, running around the grass surface of a drag strip. (Sigh.)

“They still had to work hard,” Maplewood coach Dave Deeter said. “That the same expectations are on them, that we want to do the best we can possibly do, improve throughout the season and work together to do that.”

Underclassmen have been part of the Rockets’ lore, and always will be. It’s the way tradition continues at Maplewood. The distance life won’t die in Mecca, neither will Maplewood’s hopes of being one of the best in Division III.

It’s not a rebuild, but a retooling for the Rockets. The expectations are still the same, make the state meet.

“I think we’re pretty well on track,” Deeter said. “We have some young guys that are starting to contribute that didn’t last year. They’re learning about racing and what it takes to move up through a varsity race at the position that they’re at. So we’re not quite there, but we’re getting there. We’ve had races where it’s shown and we’ve had other races we need to continue to work through.”

It’ll happen race by race as the Rockets work as a pack, they way they’ve always done.

“It’s how to get out in the right position and who to work off of,” Deeter said.

The proud Maplewood tradition continues Tuesday at the Trumbull County meet.