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University Runner at Her Best in Big Meets : Preps: Robin Snowbeck keeps opponents on the run with her knack to peak at right moment.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robin Snowbeck takes her role as City Section champion seriously.

Last spring, when a newspaper pointed out that her winning time in the City 1,600-meter run was inferior to those recorded by non-qualifiers from the Southern Section, the University High runner felt even more determined to perform well at the State meet.

With a point to prove, she finished sixth in the State in 4:55.30, ahead of several runners from the Southern Section, and was the only individual scorer from the City in any girls’ running event. The mile-equivalent of her time (4:57.03) was the third-fastest by an 11th grader in the United States.

A week later, at the National Scholastic Outdoor Championship meet in Van Nuys, she placed third in the 800-meter run in 2:13.28, the nation’s 10th-best time by an 11th-grader.

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“The idea is to do the best in the big meets,” said Ralf Latham, who coached Snowbeck last season. “So, she did.”

Now with the start of her senior year as the defending City cross-country champion, Snowbeck is hopeful of continuing her record of performing well in big meets.

With the shift in the school’s calendar year, those expections have been brought into focus a month earlier.

But when classes began last week at University, she had to cope with the disappointment of learning that Latham had been displaced from his physical education teaching position at the school because of budget cuts.

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University High Principal Jack Moscowitz indicated the school’s desire to maintain the cross-country program, but said no decision has been made. Latham wants to return, but if he can’t find a spot in a nearby school and continue coaching after class or if another member of the school’s staff can’t pick up the coaching responsibility, the program may be discontinued.

Latham, who is hopeful of finding a position soon, has indicated that if he is placed too far from University, he could give workout assignments to students over the phone.

Snowbeck, who won her age division in a Santa Monica 5-K road race Sunday in 19:46, is concerned about the uncertain situation surrounding the program, which involved about 45 students last year.

“I’m worried whether or not it will be like that this year,” she said. “I hope the program does not get lost.”

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Snowbeck knows too well what it is like not having a coach. As a 10th-grader at Palisades High and without anyone to supervise workouts, she ran and trained on her own. Although she finished third in the City cross-country meet in 19:56 and was City runner-up in the 1,600-meter run in 5:16.27 and ran 5:10.55 in the state prelims, she found training alone difficult.

It was even harder until the other students became aware of her success.

“Kids would think it was strange at first that I was running by myself,” she said.

She applied what she had learned from training the previous year in Anchorage, Alaska, where she was born. As a freshman at Bartlett High, she benefited from the advice of a coaching staff and finished 10th in the Alaska state cross-country meet.

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In track, she ran the 400, finishing third in state in 59.4 seconds.

Moving from Alaska to Southern California was an adjustment, which included learning to run in the warm weather and against better competition.

After completing a year at Palisades High and following a move to Westwood last summer, Snowbeck transferred to University.

She learned to enjoy running longer distances. “You could watch yourself improve,” she said. “And pretty much amaze yourself.”

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In November, she won the City cross-country championship in 18:40, improving her time on the 5-K course at Pierce College by 1:16 from the previous year.

In addition to winning the City 1,600-meter run in 5:09.70, she also won the 3,200 in 11:44.79.

Latham says that the 5-foot-6 1/2, 115-pound Snowbeck’s greatest asset is her leg speed.

“Robin would qualify for the City finals in the 400, maybe even the 200,” he said. “So with her speed and with her stamina, that’s why she’s good.”

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Both Snowbeck and Latham agree that one of her greatest weaknesses is her lack of experience against strong competition. With that in mind, Snowbeck will run in several invitational cross-country meets this fall.

In the past two years, she has shown improvement in the State meet, held annually at Woodward Park in Fresno. As a Palisades sophomore, she finished 93rd in 20:46. Last year, she was 42nd in 19:45. Against several of the best runners from West Coast states at the Kinney Regional meet a week later, she was 43rd in 19:00.

Doug Speck, a senior editor with Track & Field News, has watched her times drop dramatically.

“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect her to drop another minute,” Speck said. “Robin is definitely among the finest high school middle-distance runners in the country.”

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Snowbeck, who has a 3.75 grade-point average, is following Latham’s advice to train at a moderate level in the summer. She runs 38 miles a week in order to prevent burnout.

“He wants me to be fresh when I get to college and have my best years then and later on in life,” she said. “And to keep in mind that the end of the road is not when I graduate from high school.”


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