The extended winter has severely limited the amount of training the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls track team has been able to do, but it is only a matter of time before the program takes off.
That’s the feeling RBHS coach Bob Bensfield has after welcoming 60 girls into the program, an increase of 25 from a year ago.
The burgeoning group includes a large contingent of multi-sport athletes and others who have also been active in music and theater.
“As a coach I love having multi-sport athletes,” Bensfield said. “I know some coaches want you to focus on one sport, but [multi-sport athletes] come to the sport feeling fresher.”
The Bulldogs will be bolstered by several athletes who contributed to the girls basketball team that posted a 25-7 record this winter, including juniors Janae Dabney and Renee Kunkel.
Dabney has already gone over 15 feet in the long jump and could be a force in the high jump, while Kunkel returns after missing last year following open-heart surgery. Kunkel is still getting back into shape and will be limited initially, but Bensfield is thrilled to have her back.
“She provides a lot of leadership, just a great comeback story,” Bensfield said. “She’s still working her way back. We want to make sure she stays healthy.
“She will be a big leader on our relays and she was all-state in the 200 and 400 in junior high. I see her contributing by the end of the year. I can’t say enough about her.”
Dabney and Kunkel are just two of the versatile athletes the Bulldogs will field this spring.
“They’re utility athletes and they never say no if we need someone to fill in somewhere,” Bensfield said. “They’re two people I can count on for anything.”
Two other such athletes are senior Clare Bollnow and junior Jackie LaBelle. Bollnow, a four-year starter, will lead RBHS in distance running, while LaBelle, a returning state qualifier in the pole vault, headlines a strong lineup in the field events.
[Bollnow] has had a really good career in cross-country and track,” Bensfield said. “We’re excited to see what she can do.”
Bollnow timed 5:59 to finish third in the 1,600 run at last Friday’s Metro Suburban Conference indoor championships, the same meet where LaBelle won the pole vault title by clearing 9-0.
LaBelle went 9-6 at sectionals last season and has only gotten better. The school record of 10-3 could be within her reach.
“She put in a lot of work over the winter,” Bensfield said. “She’s in good midseason form and looks like she’s got a real good shot of getting back to state.”
Another potential state qualifier is 6-foot-5-inch freshman Dana Rettke, the starting center on the basketball team, who shows promise in the high jump. One of her hoops teammates, sophomore Elexis Walker, will contribute in the throws and sprints, while two other sophomores, Marley Santore and Emma Beener, will see action in the jumps and the sprints. Santore and Beener finished 1-2 in the JV triple jump at the MSC indoor meet.
Two more newcomers to watch are freshmen Sam Miezo and Grace Roman, who will compete in both the field and the track relays. Miezo has already gone 13-5 in the long jump, while Roman anchored the JV 1,600 relay to third place at the indoor conference meet.
Throw in distance runners Dee Dee Keen and Vanessa Jebb and junior middle distance runner Reilly O’Donnell, back from a year off, and Bensfield is enthusiastic about the Bulldogs’ prospects for the outdoor season, which begins April 1 with a home dual against Morton.
“We’re going to start slow and built toward the end of the year,” Bensfield said. “Our main goal is to stay away from injuries and make sure we’re healthy at the end. There’s nothing but excitement ahead.”