RIGHT ON TRACK: Richwoods girls favored to win MS-6 title

Tom Batters
Richwoods girls track coach Rich Thole works on a relay drill in practice with junior co-captain Danielle DesJardins.

Alex Starks, one of the most decorated female athletes in Richwoods school history, graduated and is now at Bradley University, but Lady Knights girls track coach Rich Thole does not spend much time wondering how he will replace her.

That is because he has a strong group of athletes, many with state meet experience, returning, and his expectations for the upcoming season are high.

“You don’t replace somebody like Alex,” Thole said. “She was a special athlete (she finished second in the state in the high jump). But, when I see the kids we have coming back, I get very excited. There is a lot of talent here, and these girls are capable of accomplishing great things.”

Senior sprinters Donielle Ross and Shavantay Thomas will lead the way for Richwoods, which is the perennial favorite to win the Mid-State 6 Conference.

Ross qualified for the state meet in the triple jump and 400-meter dash last year. Thomas qualified for state in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash.

Both seniors were on the state-qualifying 100-meter relay and 200-meter relay teams.

Ross and Thomas were not able to advance to the final day of the state meet, but Thole said that will add extra incentive to advance further this year.

“Donielle was the last one not to make the finals in the 400. She’s been there and had that disappointment,” Thole said. “She is more mature this year. It’s just a matter of getting that extra focus and going one step further.”

Thole said Thomas had a “phenomenal” junior season, and he expects her to go far again.

“She is a gifted athlete who busts her butt in practice,” he said. “People sometimes don’t realize how much work these girls put in every day to get ready for the season. Shvantay works as hard as any athlete I’ve been around.”

Junior co-captain Danielle Des Jardins, junior Jenisha Brittine and sophomore Da’Shay Johnson also return with a year state relay experience.

Junior Megan Kerns, who qualified for the state meet in shot put, is also back this year.

Katie Grinstead, Rebecca Hanna and Sravanthi Vegunta return to anchor the distance events.

Thole said one of his goals is to send several girls to the state meet, but winning the conference and Sectional are the main team objectives.

“Track is a team sport. We want to win our dual meets and have success as a team,” he said. “We want to win the Sectional as a team. The girls who advance to state are an extra bonus.”

Thole said the Lady Knights will have a “bull’s eye on their backs” because they are favored to win the conference, but it will not be easy.

“(Peoria) Notre Dame can beat us on any given day, and Central and Manual have some talented sprinters who can beat us, too. It’s going to be a battle. We’ll have to be ready,” he said.

Notre Dame coach John Cummings said his team will be strong in the long-distance events, since several members of the state-qualifying cross country team will also run track this year.

“I can see our distance girls competing with anybody,” he said.

Those distance runners include Caitlin Comfort, Molly Dahlquist, Maggie Clark and Julie Hendricksen.