North Central's Maddie Rocchio wins 2024 Marion County Female Athlete of the Year

Maddie Rocchio was not a runner when she started sixth grade at Eastwood Middle School. She preferred playing catcher for her softball team.

“One of my coaches said I could throw the ‘hot juice,’” she said with a laugh. “That was my strong suit — throwing down to second.”

Something clicked, though, when she started running cross-country in sixth grade. Rocchio had already read “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” about Louis Zamperini’s incredible journey to become an Olympic runner. “I’d read it about eight times by then,” she said. “My favorite book.”

She found Zamperini’s running strategy inspiring and used it in her first race, which was the 800 meters at her fifth-grade field day. She won. “This is kind of fun,” she remembered thinking. “I kind of like it.”

Robert Geile, now the North Central boys track coach, was coaching middle school cross-country at Eastwood when Rocchio started sixth grade. “She was this little, little, little kid,” Geile said. The first meet, Rocchio finished ahead of Geile’s more experienced runners. She wasn’t the most talented runner. But there was something that pushed Rocchio to achievements that might have otherwise been out of her reach.

“She was the most determined runner that I’ve ever seen,” Geile said. “She’s not built like a distance runner. But her heart is bigger than anybody else’s. She’s relentless.”

Rocchio eventually put her catcher’s mitt up for good and focused on running cross county and distance races in track and field at North Central. The Indiana University commit will run in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters on Friday at the state track meet in Bloomington after helping her team to a regional championship on Tuesday. Rocchio had previously competed in state meets in North Central’s 4x800-meter relay team as a freshman, sophomore and junior and finished in the top-25 at the state cross country meet as a junior and senior for coach Chad Wallace.

For those accomplishments and more, Rocchio, a four-time academic all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference selection, was voted the Marion County Female Athlete of the Year by a vote of the athletic directors in the county. The honor dates to 1950 (it grew to include female athletes in 1979) and is regarded as one of the top recognition awards for Indianapolis-area senior high school athletes.

North Central's Maddie Rocchio finished 19th at the state cross country meet. Her sister, Elizabeth (left), finished 20th.
North Central's Maddie Rocchio finished 19th at the state cross country meet. Her sister, Elizabeth (left), finished 20th.

Other finalists for the award were Beech Grove multi-sport standout and Coastal Carolina softball recruit Malone Moore and Franklin Central soccer/track/wrestling star Breece Bass, who will play soccer at Murray State. The award is geared toward athletic achievement, but the winners also exhibit impressive credentials in academics and in their personal lives. Generally, multi-sport athletes are given consideration over single-sport athletes, though that is not always the case.

“It’s definitely a little proud moment,” Rocchio said. “I don’t like to brag about stuff. But it feels very good and validating.”

Wallace called Rocchio a “show by example leader.”  One of the goals she did vocalize this year was to advance to the state meet in individual events, which she did by finishing third in the 1,600 (5:09.87) and third in the 3,200 (11:20.31) at the regional meet at Pike.

“That was our goal,” Wallace said. “She’s definitely been ramping up for this.”

Despite her success in track and field, Rocchio considers herself a “cross country girl.”

“Track has gotten more fun this year, but I definitely prefer cross county,” she said. “It’s a little different team aspect and I just like the Saturday morning races. I’m definitely a distance person. The 5K is one of my favorites.”

Running has become something of a family event for Rocchio. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, is a sophomore who qualified for state in the 800 meters and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish at the regional. At the state cross country meet in the fall, Maddie finished 19th with sister Elizabeth a second behind her in 20th place.

When Maddie was an eighth grader at Eastwood and getting more competitive with running, Elizabeth joined the team as a sixth grader.

“I think she watched me, and we both just fell in love with it,” Maddie said. “I convinced her to do cross country and she found out she was pretty good at it. I don’t think she does it just because I run. She’s obviously very talented, which I’m super proud of.”

Maddie was named a team captain this year, which forced her to become a more vocal leader. “I just told myself I needed to get out of my comfort zone a little bit,” she said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve been able to accomplish and at least get better at doing.”

Rocchio is a dedicated runner but prides herself on being a well-rounded individual. During the pandemic, she focused on the nutrition aspect of being an athlete and taught herself to cook, making recipes from the cookbook of four-time Olympic runner Shalane Flanagan.

“I feel like nutrition and recovery goes unnoticed or overlooked in a lot of athletes,” she said. “I’ve had friends get injured training super hard, which is something I’ve been lucky enough to avoid. I really focused on the nutrition aspect of it and love cooking. I’ve also had great coaches training me through my high school career.”

There is nothing better to Rocchio than putting on a playlist or a podcast (Emma Chamberlain is a favorite) and getting out for a morning run.

“It’s something I’ve grown to love,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: North Central's Maddie Rocchio is Marion County Female Athlete of Year