EDGINGTON — The Rockridge girls' track and field squad was a team on the rise in the Three Rivers Conference last season.
With the departure of several key athletes and an influx of younger talent, the Rockets had hoped to use this spring as an opportunity to retool its lineup and build on a 2019 spring campaign that included third-place finishes at the TRAC and Class 1A sectional meets.
The cancellation of the 2020 season not only cost coach Haley MacDonald's squad a chance to grow and mature through competition, it also brought to an early end the high school careers of her two seniors, high jumper Rose Bain and distance runner Destiny Chard.
But with a pair of state qualifiers from '19 — juniors Kira Nelson (4x800, 4x200 and 4x400 relays) and Lauren Oelke (4x200 relay, 100 high hurdles) — set to return as seniors in '21, MacDonald is confident her program can continue its ascendance.
Rockridge's performance at the Quad-City Indoor meet at St. Ambrose University in early March, just before the season was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gave her extra reason for optimism.
"I thought this was going to be more of a rebuilding year, but at the SAU meet, we had different people step up, and it was cool to see how far ahead we were than I originally thought," said MacDonald. "Our 4x800, with Kira, Madison Heisch, Kierney McDonald and Chey Leaich, looked good at that first meet and showed we had something to work with.
"Having Lauren back in the 100 and 300 hurdles after she finished last year so strong, running alongside the big dogs like (former Orion state champion) Danielle Taets, she was starting to find her place."
Having lost Three Rivers 100 meter champion and state qualifier Keely Parker to graduation and with sisters Carlie and Ellie Ruckey, who formed half of the three state relays (including the fourth-place 4x400 quartet), transfer to Midway High School in Cleveland, Mo., just south of Kansas City, the younger Rockets were being called on to step up immediately.
That includes the junior trio of Emma Preston, Ella Rursch and Nicole Sedam, who switched from softball to track this spring, along with sophomores Erin Danner and Emma Slattery and their classsmates, the aforementioned Heisch, Leaich and McDonald.
"We still had some irons in the fire for this season, and luckily all of those girls will be back," MacDonald said. "This was going to be a year of moving kids around after losing quite a bit. I think the kids I'll have back, they're all so competitive, having this (season) taken away against their will is going to light a fire under them.
"It's also a good lesson for them, to not take anything for granted."
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