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Maplewood freshman enhances Rockets’ power

Submitted photo Maplewood freshman Caleigh Richards has had a successful start to the season, leading the Rockets early this year.

BAZETTA — Mike Richards looked relieved.

It wasn’t him being interviewed after a cross country race.

The former McDonald High School girls coach came over to his alma mater Maplewood this spring to take over the girls track and field program.

This fall, he gets to watch his daughter run — helping the Rockets program.

Frankly, it’s been a good sight as she’s dominated by winning the Billy Goat Challenge and the Oscar Grant Maplewood Invitational this year and took second at the Salem Early Bird — all as a freshman.

“It’s your turn to talk,” said Mike, looking at his daughter, Caleigh.

“It’s been great since we haven’t had a track season,” said Caleigh, who didn’t get to run her eighth-grade season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was great to get out there and run.”

Maplewood’s girls cross country improved in 2020, coming off a season where it won the Division III Boardman Regional title and made a trip to state.

Caleigh Richards has run faster than 20 minutes in all three races, including 18:51.50 in the Billy Goat Challenge.

“Having a girl that can run in the teens, that makes a big difference how you can do on the state level,” said Maplewood girls cross country coach Michelle Rupe after the Billy Goat Challenge. “If you have a pack of 20, 21s, you can get up there. To make that step above and have the girls back them up, that’s what Minster does year after year. I don’t think we’re that good, but maybe?”

Her success has been indicative of the Rockets early start as Maplewood hasn’t finished lower than third in any off these races with 71 points as the highest of the three totals.

“I’ve been a little more aggressive this year,” Rupe said. “Usually I don’t do the workouts I’ve been doing. The season could end in a second.

“We’ve been pretty aggressive. If we go all the way to November, I hope we hang on until then and not burn out. We’re starting off really aggressive and have a couple of girls start off strong and can improve. That’s good sign. It’s not like they’re all running great right now.”

Caleigh has taken off so far this season.

“It’s real exciting, being part of varsity,” she said. “Just getting to compete for a high school sport is pretty fun.”

She’s had plenty of encouragement from Mike.

“He doesn’t try to put pressure on me,” Caleigh said. “He likes to encourage me, give me advice.”

After the Billy Goat Challenge, his advice was to talk to the local reporter.

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