As Quince Orchard High School junior Kyra Lyles set out on the opening leg of the 800-meter relay at the Southern Maryland Indoor Track and Field Classic on Jan. 5, the Cougars’ expectations were a bit tempered. After all, they were missing arguably their most explosive sprinter, Zakaiyah Bright. But in a testament to this year’s depth—and parity—Lyles, sophomore Danejah Kyle, junior Sydney Gunn and senior Alexis Martin dropped the fastest time in school history (one minute, 49.69 seconds), snapping a four-year program record en route to their sixth-place finish in the event.
“It was definitely different, not having (our stronger) leg but it was like, ‘Wow, we actual did it,’ and could see how all the hard work paid off,” said Martin, who anchored the relay. “It was exciting (to do this) early in the season and it’s great knowing that if we don’t have one of us, we can put in another girl we trust (and still compete).”
It was Gunn who stepped in to join a trio, which along with Bright has been running together since elementary school. And she did so rather seamlessly. The foursome eclipsed Quince Orchard’s previous record, set in 2015, by approximately .1 seconds, Coach Seann Pelkey said. And as of Jan. 14, it was the fifth-fastest time among Montgomery County teams, public or private, according to mocorunning.com.
“They were definitely surprised,” Pelkey said. “They didn’t go into it expecting to break any records, but that just shows the maturity of the team. And it’s really nice for Sydney, who is usually an alternate but now has a school record.”
The milestone was the third school record broken since the outdoor season last spring. Martin, Lyles and Bright, with the help of Martin’s older sister and 2018 graduate Kayla, set new program marks in the 400m and 800m outdoor relays. The early season success should help set the tone for what the Cougars’ sprinting corps hopes will be an exciting and prosperous
But Martin, whom Pelkey commended as an invaluable team leader both verbally and by example, said the key to postseason success will be to focus inward, rather than look too far ahead or concern themselves with what other teams are doing.
“Our main goal is just to top our times and chase whoever is ahead of us,” Martin said. “We want to better ourselves and our times, personally, each time we race. Pushing ourselves to be the best in the county, starts with how much work we put in.”
And, given Lyles, Bright, Martin and Kyle’s experience competing together—and longtime friendship off the track—they’re comfortable pushing each other, Martin said, and offering each other constructive criticisms and advice. That’s been a major part of their success thus far, Martin continued.
“A good friend, and a good teammate, wants you to be the best you can be,” Martin said. “They make me push myself harder.”
The four sprinters, whose complementary strengths bolster their dynamic, are also poised for individual successes as well. At the Southern Maryland Classic, Lyles crushed her own school record from earlier this season in the 500m run. In doing so, she also became the first Quince Orchard girl to break 1:20—her time of 1:18.91 is the county’s fifth-fastest (as of Jan. 14), per mocorunning.com. Prior to this winter, the program record hadn’t been touched in nearly a decade.
Lyles also ranks among the best Montgomery County Public Schools athletes in the 300m dash; Martin, too. Bright, who Pelkey said would have considered 200 meters a distance event just a few short years ago, finished fourth in the 55m dash at last year’s indoor state championship. Kyle is an overall versatile athlete, Pelkey said, and can be counted on to contribute in a variety of events, including the hurdles, which she recently picked up.
The Montgomery County championship meet was scheduled to kick off this winter’s postseason on Jan. 16—results were unavailable at press time. That was to be the first time the Cougars’ sprint relay would share the starting line with—and be able to gauge their status among—some of the county’s top squads, including Northwest and James H. Blake, Pelkey said.
“In years past, we didn’t necessarily have the depth and parity that we have this year, as far as the quality among our runners,” Pelkey said. “(Our success) doesn’t have to fall on the shoulders of one person; it’s a whole team effort. They’re getting stronger and more confident (each race) and have found that trust in each other. They know that if one of them isn’t running the perfect leg (of a relay), the other girls can pick up the slack.”