TRAVERSE CITY — Olivia Richards wasn’t sure she’d recover from a torn ACL.

But did she ever.

The Traverse City Central running standout committed to Division 2 Davenport University a year after suffering the injury.

“Coming back from that injury, I had doubts,” Richards said. “It would have been easy to give up. Mentally, I was fighting with myself.”

Richards tore her left ACL and sustained meniscus damage early in her sophomore season, but didn’t know it. She kept playing on it, ultimately discovering the injury the first day of basketball tryouts.

The injury forced her to miss her sophomore track season and junior cross country campaign while recuperating from surgery. Then, on top of that, the coronavirus pandemic took her senior track and field season just as she was getting back to form.

“It was really sad,” said Richards, who was also recruited by Grand Valley State, Aquinas and Hope. “I was really looking forward to this season. The distance girls have been working so hard this winter.”

Richards’ freshman season revealed lots of promise. She won the Record-Eagle Honor Roll Meet with a long jump of 16’0.25” and ran legs on winning 400- and 800-meter relay teams. She placed seventh in both the Big North Conference and Northern Michigan Championships in cross country, ending the season with two top finishes.

Richards’ junior track season didn’t go as planned as she came back from the knee injury, but she qualified for the Honor Roll Meet in both the 800 meters and long jump. She bounced back during her senior cross-country season with a runner-up Northern Michigan Championships finish.

“When I emailed the coach, he was pretty excited,” said Richards, who plans to major in occupational therapy. “I couldn’t pass it up. It was perfect.”

She visited Davenport in November and committed in December before doing a virtual signing day after the coronavirus hit.

Davenport assistant track and cross country coach Matt Hewson, a 2005 Petoskey grad who helped the Northmen win the 2004 Big North Conference and regional titles and also played football, said the team came away even more impressed with Richards after her visit.

“We were really impressed with her demeanor,” Hewson said. “She asked good questions. She’s somebody we thought would hit the ground running.”

Hewson said he expects Richards will be in the Panthers’ top five X-C runners by the end of the freshman season.

Davenport’s cross country and track rosters are dotted with area athletes, including Manistee freshman Erin Dorn, Petoskey senior Thomas VanSlembrouck, Manistee freshman Jack Sandstedt, Petoskey junior Romario Salmon and the Kingsley trio of freshman Collin Graham and juniors Claude Ockert and Kelsey Graham. VanSlembrouck and Dorn also compete on the cross country team.

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