Some athletes just have “it” — an undefinable characteristic that screams success.

Belleville cross country coach Tamara Houser saw the look of success emanating from junior Noelle Maire as early as the fourth grade, when the standout runner showed up week after week to take part in Houser’s early morning running club for the community’s fourth- through sixth-graders.

“I can see the look on their faces when they’re running, that they like a bit of competition,” Houser said. “It’s like they can appreciate what they can do.”

Years later, the determination Maire displayed during all those 7 a.m. Friday running sessions is paying off. She has developed into one of the top Division 3 runners in the state heading into Saturday’s WIAA sectional meet in Darlington.

Maire brings the state’s top Divison 3 girls time to the meet. As a returning state placewinner (fifth last year in 19 minutes, 45 seconds for 5,000 meters), she also is on a short list of favorites to win the state championship on Oct. 31 in Wisconsin Rapids.

But Maire isn’t looking that far ahead.

“I just have to run my best race and see what happens from there,” she said of Saturday’s sectional — which, she said, will be held at a course she likes.

Maire enters the most important part of the season running the best times of her prep career. Her time of 19:04 was the top time in Division 3 before last Saturday’s Capitol Conference meet, when she slashed her personal best to 18:24 to win the South Division race.

She hopes to build upon the momentum she has generated over the past two years at the state meet, where she placed 17th as a freshman and found her way to the podium as a sophomore. The success trajectory has continued this year — she has won seven of the eight races she’s entered, only taking second at the Capitol meet behind a North Division runner (but under the meet format she was declared the South champion).

“I’ve shocked myself a bit; I didn’t expect all these wins,” Maire said.

The elementary school running club that Houser started in 1998 gave Maire one of her first chances to display her competitive spirit. Kids could run either 11/2 or 21/2 miles in the morning, and regardless of the distance, Maire always tried to beat the boys back to school.

“I didn’t always beat everyone back, but I competed with the guys,” she said.

Houser noticed Maire’s competitive side during those early sessions, too. That’s why none of Maire’s current successes surprise the coach.

“For a kid to show up every Friday to go running even in snow, that’s pretty dedicated,” Houser said. “She’s just a very gifted runner, and it’s fun to see her coming along and striving to improve.”

• Sectional schedule in Scoreboard. B7

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