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Preview: Strong athletes return for Woodbury girls' track and field

Short distance ace Katie Henschell (lower left) and hurdler/jumper Maria Versaguis (lower right) will be two key athletes for the Woodbury Royals this season, both in individual events and in the Royals signature 4x100-meter relay. (Photo by John Molene)

Woodbury will miss the sprinting of graduated senior Taylor Raines this spring, but the girls' track and field team welcomes back a number of good athletes this season.

Raines won both the 100- and 200-meter dash in the Suburban East Conference as a senior last season, then went on to place fourth in the 100 at the Class 2A state meet and fifth in the 200. While the Royals don't quite have anyone yet with her star power on the roster, they do have several athletes who should do very well.

"Last year we had a very strong team," Woodbury head coach DJ Billingsley said. "We kind of had some disappointing finishes at the section meet. A majority of those members are back this year ... so overall I think we're stronger than we were last year.

Leading the charge for the Royals this spring will be senior hurdler/jumper/relay runner Maria Versaguis, junior jumper Runo Egi, junior Haley Orf in the 400 and 800, and senior Katie Henschell in the short distance events and relays.

"Our relays are really our strength," Billingsley said. "We like to put together a lot of good relays."

The Royals welcome back three of four members of the conference-winning 4x100 relay team.

One newcomer who could make a mark is senior foreign exchange student Julia Pereira in the middle distances. She clocked about a 60-second 400 in her native Brazil.

"We're excited to see how she goes up here," said Billingsley.

Distance events and jumps should also be improved, said the Royals coach.

"We have a new distance coach who seems very keen on training and peaking at the right moment," Billingsley said. "So all the big meets he's got a program that's peaking the girls at the right time, and we have a lot of strong distance girls this year. We actually grew that by seven members.

"Our horizontal jumpers have been working in an off-season weight-lifting regime, and so they are much stronger this year than they were last year. So we're excited to see where that goes," said Billingsley.