PLAINSBORO: Knights’ Donthireddy a proven leader

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Athletes are off and running during the Unified Relay in late August at West Windsor-Plainsboro North

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Veda Donthireddy found a way to combine two of her passions and it worked out great.
Donthireddy, a senior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High North, loves running on the cross country team and she channeled that into her Gold Award Project for the Girl Scouts. Donthireddy put together a Unified Relay Event to encourage special needs children to be active in running and the event was a huge success.
“The point of the project was to encourage students with intellectual disabilities to participate in sport,” Donthireddy said. “It’s unified sports like what Special Olympics has done. West Windsor-Plainsboro didn’t have anything like this until I held the event this summer. We’re trying to have a more inclusive community. I know Montgomery and some other districts have unified sports.
“We’re hoping this is something that is sustainable because the kids are welcome to join the track and cross country teams. It also helps that Coach (Brian) Gould is a special education teacher.”
The event in late August was a success and led into what has become a successful season for the North cross country teams. The Knights will compete in the Mercer County meet today at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.
“Our cross country team would practice in the morning and then these practices were in the evening from 5-7,” Donthireddy said. “We had 42 participants. It was really cool. I had five volunteers from my team and I think everyone had a really good time. The parents were happy. I saw Facebook posts where they were posting pictures of kids from the event. I got a lot of thank you notes and a handwritten note from a participant.”
With the Unified Relay proving successful, Donthireddy carried that over to the high school season, where she has been the Knights top finisher through the season. The North girls finished 9-4 and are excited about the Mercer meet.
“This is the first year since I have been at North that we have had such a strong distance team,” said Donthireddy, who played field hockey as a freshman and sophomore while also running winter and spring track the last four years. “I am really happy with what we have done and I think we have a lot of potential do well at counties. I am really happy with the season. It’s been a success and we’re still aiming high for counties. We’re still not satisfied. We’re happy but we are aiming to accomplish more.”
At the Mercer meet, the Knights would love to finish ahead of a couple of teams they lost to during the regular season. They would also love to advance beyond the sectional meet the following week and qualify for the state meet.
“I was pleased with how they were doing all season,” North coach Matthew Warren said. “This is my first year coaching and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had some strong runners returning and a bunch of new runners doing cross country for the first time. With the varsity runners bringing the new runners under their wing we had some early success.
“We were close with Notre Dame and had some defeats with South and Princeton. We were also close with Robbinsville and Allentown. It will be interesting at the county meet with some many girls running it will have a different feel than a dual meet.”
As a first year coach, Warren is happy to have a leader in the program like Donthireddy, who has been a leader on and off the course.
“She has been a fantastic leader,” Warren said. “She is one of the hardest working athletes I have met. I’ve coached her in track and it has been great to watch her grow into that leadership role. She did a Unified Relay for Girl Scouts and she has become more vocal in the way she encourages people. She leads in warmup before races and talks them up during the race. She has been fantastic.”
Donthireddy is happy she made the switch from field hockey to cross country as a junior. It’s a move that has worked out well.
“It was hard physically because I would play club field hockey and also practice for high school,” she said. “When it came down to it I had to choose one and I knew would never regret it if I chose running over field hockey. A big factor that influenced my choice was just the people on track and cross country. We have a really great team culture.”
The Knights have Donthireddy and three other key returning runners — Anu Kandasamy, Julia Grande and Sarah Liu. They have joined newcomers Sophia Tyrell, Kyra Ellwood and Emma Faivre to give the team a solid top seven.
“The hallmark has been they really care about each other and have that sense of team,” Warren said. “You can tell that is the most import thing. The better runners are pulling up the other three and the younger runners are getting it. That is not just running for themselves but for the team.”