Lafayette — Zionsville senior track standout Ella Robinson usually doesn't get nervous before races.
But prior to her 300-meter hurdles race Tuesday night at the Lafayette Jefferson Regional, the nerves were building in Robinson as she warmed up in the infield for her race.
Robinson knew the importance of the race, where she had to place in either the top 3 or run a 45.32 to hit the state standard, to get her to Indiana University's Robert C. Haugh Track Complex next Saturday and give her one final shot at the state title that she has been so close to winning.
And although she was nervous, she certainly didn't show it Tuesday.
Robinson cruised through her race, breaking her own regional record with a time 42.62 to claim the regional title.
"I am so excited to really just be on the top of my game," Robinson said. "I really didn't think I would be here at this point last year. I am just ready to compete next week."
The scary part heading into next week is that Robinson feels she has an even faster time in her.
She said that she feels as good as she has all season long, and there were little things in Tuesday's race that she can clean up to be even better.
"I just feel excited and I'm on a high right now from running," Robinson said. "I am just ready to go out and do my best."
To better appreciate what Robinson is doing now, you have to go back 12 months to where she was at this point a season ago.
She had finished as runner-up at state in both her freshman and sophomore seasons to Culver Academies Addison Coy. With Coy graduating, last year was supposed to be Robinson's year.
But she never got the chance to really show what she could do. Midway through year at the Eagle Invite, Robinson suffered a severe hamstring injury that ended her season.
Rather than competing for the state title, she was watching from the sidelines as someone else won the state title in a time slower than the time she ran her sophomore year in her runner-up finish.
She said it was tough rehabbing on her own away from the team, and then missing the cross country season in the fall, which she did to stay in shape and be with her friends on the team. But it also gave her a new outlook on things.
"I definitely got a new perspective," Robinson said. "I have a new appreciation for track."
Robinson has approached her season differently this year, with less sprinting races and more longer distance events.
She was part of Zionsville's indoor state champion 3,200-meter relay team, and ran nearly as many 800s as 300-hurdle races throughout the year. Her time of 2:16.98 in the 800 midway through the year would have qualified her for state.
Robinson said the change was exactly what she needed. And when it came time to focus on the hurdles in the state series, she has seen the benefits of that preparation.
"I felt like I was finally doing what I love again," Robinson said. "I was finally able to glorify my God again just doing what I was made to do. Switching it up really just renewed my passion for the sport. I was able to do some new things that I enjoyed. This season was mostly just about enjoying the sport. I didn't think I would be where I am at right now, so I am just enjoying it more."
One thing she has also enjoyed the last couple of weeks is running the 1,600-meter relay with her younger sister Lily.
The younger Robinson is one of the talented sprinters in the Zionsville freshmen class, but has been added to the 4x4 in the last few weeks of the season, and has found great success.
"She inspires me," the older Robinson said. "It has been my dream for so long to run with her. She is just blowing my away. It is everything I have ever hoped for finishing my last year with my sister. Being able to compete with her, has made me work harder and be more excited to be running."
Robinson will enter the State Finals on June 1 as the favorite in the 300-meter hurdles, with the only seed time better than 44 seconds.
The 1,600-meter relay team is seeded fourth, and within striking distance of second.
Robinson said that heading into the meet, she doesn't plan on doing anything differently.
"I am going to keep doing what I have been all season," Robinson said. "I am just enjoying the sport, giving glory to God and trusting that whatever happens, happens for a reason. I am going to try not to be nervous, and just focus on the enjoyments of track while it lasts."
Eagles sending six events to state
Robinson won't be the only representative for the Eagles at the State Finals.
The Eagles will be sending six events to the state meet next week, and placed fourth overall in the team standings.
"The girls really stepped up," Zionsville head coach Drake Sterling said. "There were some adverse weather conditions and I was really amazed about how we came in mentally tough and ready to go. We exceeded our expectations."
The Eagles got off to a great start right away with junior Cam Gietl in the 100-meter hurdles.
After running a school record 15.45 seconds in the prelims, Gietl ran 15.51 in the finals to place third and advance to state.
"That was a spot we knew there was an outside chance of her getting in heading into the meet," Sterling said. "She set the school record in the prelims, and then to back it up by placing third in the finals; it put everyone in a good mood and let everyone know we were ready to go."
A couple events later, the 400-meter relay team of Gietl, Michelle Nazarov, Lily Robinson and Sophia Yovanovich qualified for state by finishing fourth in 48.71, a state standard time.
Sterling said that he thinks the girls can improve on that at State.
"Getting those baton exchanges will be big," Sterling said. "They are seeded sixth heading in, but I think we can move into the top 5. Our goals are pretty high next week."
Katelyn Wasson placed second in the 3,200-meter run in 10:49.16, and will be one of the favorites next week.
The 1,600-meter relay team of Nazarov, Ella Robinson, Lily Robinson and Lauren Rinehart placed second in 3:57.85 and the 3,200-meter relay team of Anna Settle, Taylor Browne, Reagan McCooey and Margaret Allen got a callback to state after placing sixth in 9:49.71.
Sterling said he is excited to have a large group heading to state.
"It definitely does help in preparation," Sterling said. "We have a big training group and the alternates are helping us out a lot too. Having so many girls going to state and staying in practice is really helpful."
Also competing at the regional: Nazarov was sixth in the 200 in 26.26, Rinehart was seventh in the 800 in 2:20.74, Lydia Lupinski was seventh in the discus in 118-feet-11-inches, Emily Sexton was eighth in the 400 in 1:01.09, Audrey Sexton was eighth in the long jump in 16-feet-5-inches, Katelyn Makinde was eighth in the shot put in 36-feet-04.25-inches, Anne Busse was ninth in the pole vault in 10-feet-2-inches, Ale Nelson was 11th in the pole vault in 9-feet, Yovanovich was 11th in the 100 in 13.05, Allen was 11th in the 1,600 in 5:25.85 and Sophie Collier was 13th in the shot put in 33-feet-4-inches.