Like many athletic success stories, Molly McGrail’s began by chance.

As a sixth grader, the Maranacook Community High School sophomore hoped to play soccer.

“They wouldn’t allow sixth graders to play soccer,” McGrail said.

That left cross country as an option and she jumped at it. Turns out McGrail was pretty good at it, too.

She was the top runner on the team as a freshman and continued holding that mantle this fall where she and her teammates came with a whisker of winning the Class C state championship.

For her effort, McGrail has been selected Kennebec Journal Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

McGrail is just scratching her potential according to Maranacook coach Roselea Kimball. She finished first on the team in every race this season.

“She’s definitely stronger,” Kimball said. “She’s better at knowing how to train and just knowing how to race.”

McGrail finished sixth in the Class C state meet, 29 seconds behind the winner and two seconds ahead of her time as a freshman.

“She had a stitch in her side,” Kimball said. “It slowed her down.”

After winning the South regional title on the same course in Cumberland, the Black Bears fell a point short to Orono for the state championship.

McGrail fared better against tougher competition at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meet, which has just Class A and Class B divisions, finishing second. She credits her success to physical growth and preseason training and really isn’t disappointed at any of her results this season.

“I’m happy about all my races,” she said.

She finished second at the Mt. Blue Relays,a two-mile event that features some of the top runners in Class A. The fact that race is a mile or so shorter that the traditional 5K races during the season highlights on of McGrail’s strengths — her speed.

She participates in outdoor track in the spring and unlike many of her cross country counterparts. Runs some of the shorter events. McGrail placed fifth in the state meet in the 800 meter run and 7th in the 400 meter dash. Also as a freshman, she anchored the 4×400 relay team

A year of experience has served her well, as Kimball puts it “just knowing yourself and knowing your competitors.”

McGrail’s racing strategy mirrors that of a lot of the state’s top runners.

“I try to run my mile splits as consistently as I can she said, then I try to push myself the last mile.”

McGrail is already into the winter season where she is a member of the school’s Alpine ski team and success will likely come to her there as well.

“She’s just going to keep getting stronger,” Kimball said.

As far as goals go, McGrail’s aren’t necessarily lofty or for that matter even articulated.

“I just try to give it my best and have fun,” she said. “I love my team.”