Samantha Levin won the Class 4 800-meter race state title three times while at Ladue. She just wrapped up her freshman season with NCAA powerhouse LSU.

Photo by Rick Graefe

If Samantha Levin could have been on the next plane to St. Louis, she’d have booked her flight and flown back in a heartbeat. She was worn out, beaten down, tired and drained.

It’s not easy being a college freshman far from home. It’s even harder when you’re competing for the most storied women’s track and field program to ever lace up a pair of spikes. Levin took her talents to Louisiana State University last fall. The LSU women’s program won its 26th NCAA track and field national championship the second week of June. The LSU ladies have won 15 outdoor and 11 indoor titles. The Bayou Bengals are the standard by which other programs are measured. Elite talent doesn’t just pass through LSU. You have to be elite just to get your foot in the door.

Levin, 19, is elite. A standout at Ladue, Levin won the Class 4 800-meter state championship three times and her time of 2 minutes and 6.74 seconds is the state record. She was a big fish in what she thought was a pretty big pond.

Then she went to practice. Her teammates had as many, if not more, accolades. Seven of them competed at the Olympic trials last week in Eugene, Ore.

“It was very tough,” the 5-foot-6 Levin says. “It’s a good thing to train with some of the best athletes, but it was different. It was hard being a freshman. I think I learned a lot.” What she learned was that for all her talents and hard work, she was back at the bottom of the totem pole.

Levin learned that the jump from high school senior to college freshman is wider than the Grand Canyon. She thought she was prepared for it. Levin spent her high school career working with former Ladue assistant coach Sean Burris, who is revered in track circles for his dynamic training of both the mind and body. Levin ran for Burris in the summertime, too. She’d been to the biggest meets, she’d seen the fiercest competition. The difference was she saw that competition every day at practice.

“The competition, that was kind of a shock,” she says. “The workouts were similar to what I did with coach Burris.”

Levin was training every day: She practiced with the cross country team in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track in the spring.

Despite her struggles, Levin was named to the outdoor track and field All- SEC Freshman Team in the 800 after finishing eighth at the conference meet.

Things were just starting to turn around for her when her body started giving her fits. Her back began to ache. After it was looked it by the training staff and team doctors, she was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in her spine. Levin says her form changed at college and when her body tried to compensate for the adjustment, it caused the fracture.

“I wasn’t used to using certain muscles,” she says. “I have to do lots of core work (for rehab).”

Levin, who battled injuries throughout her high school career, was heartbroken her season came to an end that way. But the summer has given her a chance to recharge her batteries. There is hope that the rough patches are past and she’ll be able to get back to doing what she’s always done—dominate. Her teammate, Charlene Lipsey, is a junior and the reigning SEC 800 champion ran 2:02.6. She too had a rough start to her collegiate career.

“It really does give me confidence,” Levin says.