She celebrated the “Sweet 16” milestone of her young life a short while ago.

This spring, Ripley High’s Tori Starcher set out to enjoy a “Sweet 16” of a different kind.

In all likelihood, Starcher would have registered yet another individual state championship in Class AAA’s 800 meters, 1600 meters and 3200 meters while anchoring the 4x400 meter relay team to another title.

Those four victories would have given Starcher an astonishing 16 track and field state championships for her career.

An athlete can only compete in four events at the State Meet. Thus, Starcher went into her senior season a perfect 12-for-12 at the season-ending affair.

Her coaches, teammates, fans and track and field aficionados all across West Virginia were looking forward to watching Starcher race around the oval of University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field four more times at the State Meet.

Starcher’s performances helped Ripley win the Class AAA state championship in both 2018 and 2019 while finishing as the team runner-up in 2017.

Not to sound like a broken record, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the final season for one of the most productive track and field athletes in Ripley High, Jackson County and West Virginia history.

Like the champion she has proven to be over the last three years, Starcher has maintained a positive attitude during this frustrating time.

“It’s definitely been a change not seeing my teammates and my friends all day,” Starcher said from Ripley High’s Memorial Stadium track where she has spent countless hours since her youth. “It gets a little boring. I like being surrounded by my teammates and stuff at practice. It’s definitely a change, but everybody’s got to do it. So, I’m just toughing through it.”

While Starcher isn’t competing this spring, she has continued doing what makes her most happy by staying on the run.

“The thing about running is it is a sport that is versatile. You don’t have to be on the track all the time. I’m able to do my running off the track.”

With her final season of Ripley High track and field vanishing before it ever got started, Starcher’s next time as a team competitor will be at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

“I think the ultimate deciding factor was that I just really bonded and fit in with the teammates there,” said Starcher, who was recruited by every major college in the country. “It was like I already knew them. They were some good friends. They all treated me like I was already home. I really appreciated that. The atmosphere was so diverse, it was really interesting.”

Starcher has been blessed with supportive parents throughout her days of running, which started early on with the Charleston Striders as an elementary school student.

Her father, Joe, was a solid three-sport athlete at old Spencer High while her mother, Keri, was a competitive track and field athlete at Ravenswood.

Starcher’s late grandfather, Jack Wiseman, was an outstanding track and field/basketball coach at Ravenswood before serving many years as a principal at her beloved alma mater Ripley High.

Krystle Cunningham, who has led Ripley to those back-to-back AAA state team titles, feels fortunate to have coached an athlete like Starcher.

“One of the most amazing girls and amazing runners in the state and definitely at Ripley High School,” Cunningham said of Starcher. “We are so excited to see her continue her education and athletics at Stanford. I can’t wait to follow her.”

She hates to see Starcher go and is saddened with how this season never got underway. “We just really thought we had another chance (to win a third state title).”

Had it not been for injuries throughout her cross country days, Starcher likely would have won four titles in that sport as well. She did capture the Class AAA state crown as a sophomore in 2017.

Add it all up and she leaves the blue and white school with 13 total state championships for her career.

I repeat…13. Truly remarkable.

Starcher was set to be honored this coming Sunday in Charleston as the Female Ray McCoy Award winner for the second straight year during the West Virginia Sports Writers Association Victory Awards Dinner. The award is given to the top runner in Mountain State.

Unfortunately, the VAD was cancelled for just the second time since 1945 due to the pandemic.

Starcher has also been recognized by Gatorade multiple times while at Ripley High as West Virgina’s top running athlete.

One of her most memorable achievements while competing in high school was winning and setting a new meet record at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia last spring.

Starcher, who is also an outstanding student who plans to major in biology at Stanford, has plenty to be proud of from an athletic standpoint, but what truly makes her swell with pride is knowing she has been a role model for younger runners.

It would have been nice to see her reach the “Sweet 16” stage of her career at the 2020 State Meet.

But for all of us who have had the pleasure of watching Tori Starcher compete and win, we will cherish the memories.

And they truly are SWEET memories.