It wasn’t the ending she’d hoped and trained for, but Ripley’s Tori Starcher was guaranteed of a nearly perfect high school track career when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out her senior season, denying the distance ace a final chance to set more records at the state meet.
In her first three track seasons, Starcher ran 12 times at the state meet — nine individual races and three relays — and won 12 times, setting meet records in three of those four events either by herself or with her Vikings teammates. That, however, turned into nothing more than a consolation prize when COVID-19 kept all spring sports in West Virginia from ever getting off the ground.
Her regional meet was scheduled for May 15 at Parkersburg South, with the 46th girls state meet coming the weekend of May 22-23 at University of Charleston Stadium.
Ripley, with Starcher doubtlessly leading the way, could have made a run for its third straight girls Class AAA championship, something that’s only been done twice in Class AAA (Parkersburg 1996-98, Huntington 1988-90), but that’s now gone by the board.
“I understand, but it’s been really upsetting,’’ Starcher said. “Ripley doesn’t get too much recognition, so to be able to repeat with two titles and be up for a third one and not even have a chance, it’s upsetting. I’ve been able to keep up with a lot of my teammates — I’m good friends with them — and they’re really upset, too.
“But I’m proud of the team and how we competed through high school. This is not going to change the fact at how it worked out. I’m really excited about their future and mine, and really grateful to be able to know them and how hard they worked.’’
Starcher’s future is bright, too. The 4.0-plus student is headed to national power Stanford to run track and major in biology, signing with the PAC-12 program in California in November. She had previously given a verbal commitment to Notre Dame before changing her mind.
Following her high school graduation, which should take place sometime at the end of May, Starcher will switch over her training regimen to Stanford and coach J.J. Clark. Tentative plans include her flying out to Oregon for preseason work at the end of August, but that could change due to lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starcher seems to have recovered from a leg fracture that caused her to miss much of the state cross country season last fall.
“The past couple weeks have been very good,’’ she said. “After I broke my leg, I had a few minor issues and other injuries coming back, and that kept me off my feet for a little bit more time. But the past couple weeks I’ve been training pain-free, which is nice.’’
Only one state record eluded Starcher during her days at Ripley, as her best time of 10 minutes, 29.87 seconds in the 3,200-meter run was closing on the mark of 10:25.29 set by Amelia Paladino of University in 2014. Starcher managed to get that close even though she often ran way ahead of the pack; her top time last season was more than 13 seconds ahead of the next AAA competitor and the margin was 12-plus seconds in 2018.
“Millie was always someone I looked up to,’’ Starcher said, “and I wanted to go after her records. I was hungry to get to the next season and was a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to compete one more year. The field [of 3,200-meter runners in the state] was pretty deep this year and we all could have run some pretty fast times.’’
Still, Starcher owns three of the top four times ever run in the AAA state meet 3,200, and last spring established meet records in her other events — the 800 (2:08.40), 1,600 (4:46.61) and 4x400 relay (4:01.64).
For those efforts, and for breaking the mile record at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia last April with a time of 4:38.19, Starcher earned her second straight Ray McCoy Award as the top female track athlete in West Virginia for 2019.