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Former Raider and MSOE freshman Lexi Maruga competes in the steeplechase event on the Coe College campus in Cedar Rapids Saturday, April 21.

      At the high school level, she was your classic late-bloomer.

      But there was a very good reason why former Anamosa standout Lexi Maruga struggled through her first three years sports-wise as a Blue Raider.

      Now, however, after figuring out what had been slowing her down, Maruga is speeding things up, and ready to take full advantage of the collegiate experience as a member of not only the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) cross country team, but also the school’s track program as well.

      “After my junior year of high school I found out I was anemic, and once we got that taken care of, things just kind of took off for me,” said Maruga, who had a memorable senior season for the Anamosa cross country, basketball, track and soccer programs.

      “Honestly, I was a little scared going into my senior year of high school. To that point of my career I just hadn’t been good enough, and I really wanted to end my career on a good note. I think I did that.”

      And now she’s continuing that trend into her college career as well, where Maruga had a strong freshman cross country campaign this past fall.

      “Actually, I came to school here thinking I’d play college soccer, and that just didn’t work out,” Maruga said. “Then I started talking with some cross country girls here at school and they had heard I ran cross country in high school and told me to come out and at least give it a try.

      “I met a lot of the girls and the coaches and the team was very accepting, so I decided to join. I’m glad I did. It was a fun season.”

      Maruga, who missed the entire training session leading into the 2017 cross country campaign, due to the fact she thought she was going to play soccer, gradually worked her way up the ranks within the MSOE program.

      “At the start of the season my times were not where I wanted them to be,” she said. “But once I got more meets under my belt, I felt better and better and my times started to drop.

      “At the last meet of the season I set a PR by two-minutes.”

      Maruga also worked her way up to being the team’s third-best runner, and all that success in the fall fueled her teammates to convince her to go out for track this spring.

      “Track had never been my go-to sport in high school,” Maruga said. “And I had no desire to go out for it in college either. I’m not a sprinter and running in circles does not appeal to me at all. But most of my cross country teammates here at college were out for track as well, and they just started talking me into it. They and the coaches convinced me to give it a try, too.”

      With the brutally cold spring wiping out all of MSOE’s meets to this point, Maruga’s college track campaign started, of all places, in Cedar Rapids on the Coe College campus Saturday, April 21.

      “It sure helped me having my first-ever college track meet just a few miles from my own home town,” Maruga said. “I had family there cheering me on, it was great. I felt completely comfortable.”

      Maruga ran the steeplechase event for MSOE, and her first tour competing in the very unique event left her a bit bloodied, but fueled her passion to come back for more.

      “That was the first time I had ever hurdled a steeple before and it was quite an experience,” she said. “It’s sure a lot more fun than just running in circles, even if it beat me up a little.”

      Running track and cross country might not be the only sports Maruga plays at the college level.

      “I’m thinking about playing basketball this winter, too,” said Maruga, a biomedical engineering major.

      “I’ve already played with a lot of the girls on the team and I’ll go and talk to the coaches in a few weeks here and see what they think.

      “I’d be the tallest girl on the team by about three inches and I’m comfortable playing with them already. I think it would be a good fit.”

      Who does Maruga credit for her meteoric sports ascent?

      “That’s easy, Phil Kauder,” she said. “He’s a great coach and I still talk with him a lot. When I was down about some of my performances in high school, he never lost faith in me. I stuck it out in sports at high school because of coach Kauder.”

      Maruga also credits her brothers (Jacob and Michael) with instilling a drive in her to compete at the highest level.

      “I got the love of sports from my family,” she said. “I grew up being competitive and we were taught to never, ever make excuses.”

      Now, it’s the Milwaukee School of Engineering sports programs that are reaping the benefits.

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