Maplewood girls program on the rebound

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Maplewood’s Charlotte Church is about to finish Saturday’s Division III girls cross country district meet at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds. The Rockets placed second, and seek to get back to state for the first time since 2011.

BAZETTA — Michelle Rupe saw Charlotte Church run Saturday.

The Maplewood senior runner had the gumption to overtake what she saw in front of her — another competitor.

A 2:15 half-mile run at last season’s regional track and field meet was proof enough.

Church’s quick kick on the Trumbull County Fairgrounds surface beneath her showed her innate ability surpass any obstacle.

It’s her ability and encouragement of her teammates that made Saturday’s second-place finish in the Division III girls cross country team standings possible. And, yes, her devotion to a higher power.

“Her belief in God,” said Rupe, the Maplewood girls coach.

Church knew she had to make things special for the Rockets once again. The last time Maplewood made it to the state meet was 2011, her sixth-grade year.

Church was Rupe’s only runner in seventh grade when Rupe was the junior high coach. The Rockets program was in decline, a shell of their former selves.

“It was really scary coming up as a freshman,” Church said. “It was this monumental task. You look at it and see, ‘OK, our program isn’t really successful. It’s not where it could be. It’s disappointing and it’s sad.’ I felt like I had a responsibility as somebody who loved running and loved Maplewood to help drive it to be something better.”

These Rockets have spent the last couple of years seeing their boys team win a couple of state titles, dominate Division III.

“Sitting at home and watching them run the big meets, it irked us,” Church said. “We wanted to be with them. We wanted to be just as good and recognized for our hard work. It really pushed us and drove us to succeed.”

This girls team is on the rise. Maplewood team ranked in the top 15 for most of the season according to the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches state poll.

The top three teams advance to state of of Saturday’s Boardman Regional, which starts at 11 a.m. McDonald, ranked second all year, and Gilmour Academy, a top-5 school, should lock up the top two spots. Maplewood, according to the rankings, should be third.

Having these Rockets back at state would be beyond words, but there’s so many variables at a regional meet.

“I don’t want to jinx anything right now,” Rupe said.