The expectations couldn’t have been much higher heading into the track and field season for Aiken High senior LaToria Robinson, and she came into the spring right on schedule.
Better yet, she was ahead of schedule.
Race wins were already piling up when Robinson’s championship aspirations were ended prematurely when schools were closed and spring sports were scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I honestly feel like this season was gonna be really life-changing,” she said. “I was gonna make a difference this season. I wanted to break my school record one more time before I left. I wanted to win state, not only for the 400 for myself, but also on the 4×4 with my other girls. I felt like we were gonna do something this year, but…”
But instead she – along with the other spring sports athletes – can only wonder what might have been.
“She was on pace to do some incredible things to break her 400-meter record that she has at the school already, and she was also coming for that 200-meter record,” said Corrinthia Garvin, one of Robinson’s coaches at Aiken High. “I think this would have been undoubtedly her best year ever.”
Robinson, the reigning Aiken Standard Girls’ Track Athlete of the Year, already had wins in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes and teamed up with Jordyn Mobley, Anaya Jones and Diamond White to continue Aiken’s winning tradition in the 4×400-meter relay, and she knew it was setting up to be a championship season.
Aiken head coach John Hostetler knew he could count on her to produce points with top finishes in all those events – plus the shot put, which she reintroduced to her repertoire in time for this season – in addition to everything else a coach could hope for in an athlete.
“She’s been an incredible asset in terms of just the points that she’s able to get but also her mentality and her mental toughness,” he said. “She’s a scholar athlete – she does well in school, and she does well on the track. She’ll do anything you ask her to do. She’s a good senior leader, and it’s tough that she hasn’t been able to finish it out.”
Garvin steered Robinson, who had set aside cheerleading to focus on track, toward indoor racing in the offseason to get a head start on the competition in the spring. Robinson remembers being nervous before her first meet in November but overcame those initial jitters to run the 60-meter in 8.9 seconds, then kept setting personal record after personal record in the 60, 200 and 400. Soon, she discovered she actually preferred indoor to outdoor.
Track has been part of Robinson’s life ever since her dad offered her the chance as a 7-year-old to give the Police Athletic League Panthers a shot to see if she liked it, and she had her answer after her first day.
“I got back in the car and I was, like, ‘Daddy, I don’t like it,'” she recalled with a laugh. “He said, ‘Oh well, I don’t raise quitters so you’ve got to go back.’ After actually running in meets and stuff, and I realized I’m actually pretty good at it, I started to like it more.”
That success, plus the encouragement of older siblings and influential friends and teammates like Frelicia and Fredericka Tucker, has kept her hungry to keep pushing. She stuck with the PAL Panthers until she started competing for Aiken High while at Schofield Middle.
She excelled quickly and established herself as one of the leaders of the program as a sophomore, Garvin said, and she’s done a good job emphasizing a full-team performance to her teammates – that it’s about earning as many points as possible and not just the top three finishers.
Garvin said that shows in her willingness to add the shot put to her schedule for the first time since middle school in order to help out the team. As it turns out, she wasn’t too rusty – her throw of 28 feet was good for a second-place finish in a meet at Lakeside.
“It’s her attitude. Now, I’m not gonna leave out the part that she is talented, but it’s her attitude,” Garvin said. “…Her attitude and her leadership is what makes me upset that I have to let her go.”
She showed that in practice by recognizing that the way she practiced would shape how everyone else practiced. So she set aside whatever may be going on off the track and put forth that same effort every time to set the standard for her teammates.
“I think she just dedicates herself to track, and she’s a captain. She shows leadership all the time, and she always has,” Hostetler said. “I’ve only been able to spend two years with her, but I can just see her leadership that has been there. … I feel like she’s gotten the most that she can out of that. I feel that she just puts forth all effort, 100%, all the time. You don’t have to ask her. She’s gonna do it.”
There’s plenty of disappointment in talking about a season that wasn’t, especially for Robinson and an Aiken High girls’ team looking to add to a streak of five consecutive region championships. She said this year’s group had that family-like feeling – rather than just being a group of kids who happen to run together – that made it fun to go to the track every day.
That’s gone, too, but there are still many races for Robinson to run. Her college plans weren’t dependent on a strong showing this spring, and she’s committed to continue her academic and athletic career at Wingate University. She’ll sign her letter of intent soon, and then it’s off to take that winning attitude and leadership – and, of course, that talent – and raise those expectations with another program.
“I just tell myself that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I just feel like, when I get to college, I’m definitely gonna have to make my coaches proud and show that even though I missed the season that none of their hard work, none of their dedication toward me, went out the window.”
* Source: Aiken Standard (Kyle Dawson)