Like an unfamiliar cross-country course, life can lead people down some unexpected paths.
And so it is for two Mattituck High School athletes, Kylie Conroy and Nikki Searles. Conroy had played lacrosse from the time she was 6 until last year; Searles was a soccer player for about 15 years of her young life.
And then, there were the two seniors Monday at a college signing ceremony, each committing themselves to schools to run cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track and field.
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?
Conroy, a long-distance runner, signed a national letter of intent for NCAA Division I Manhattan College. Searles, a hurdler, put pen to paper for Division II Adelphi University.
Training for cross country and track can be grueling, difficult work, and Conroy alluded to the love/hate relationship runners in those sports can attest to. In an interview after the ceremony at Mattituck High School, she said, “It means a lot because I’ve been [running] my whole life, and even though I’ve had some downs, I’ve had downs and times [when] I hated it and I wanted to not do it any more, but yeah, I guess it’s kept me motivated to keep going.”
And rewards followed.
Chris Robinson, who coached both girls in all three sports, said Conroy and Searles share a drive and inner fire to compete and improve. “It’s something you don’t really teach or coach,” he said. “It’s something that’s within them.”
Conroy said her best — and favorite — event is the 800 meters, which she started running this season. She has run that distance as fast as 2 minutes, 26 seconds. She has also cloeked a personal-best time of 5:08 in the 1,500 in this, her first outdoor track season. She has run cross country and winter track for Mattituck since she was in eighth grade.
Robinson used the words “hard worker, determined, disciplined” to describe Conroy. He said: “Her senior year was her best year, so that’s just a credit to her. That determination, that drive, that work ethic really prevailed for her and it made her love the sport again because I think she wasn’t a hundred percent sure.”
Searles stepped away from soccer this year to run cross country for the first time and was a member of the Mattituck team that picked up a triple crown as the League IX champion with a 4-0 record, the Division V champion and Suffolk County Class C champion. It was the Tuckers’ ninth straight county title.
“At first, I did not enjoy it at all, but as the season went on and we went to counties and everything, I enjoyed it a lot more,” she said. “The team was amazing.”
Searles, a member of Mattituck’s outdoor track team since she was an eighth-grader before joining the indoor team as a freshman, said she gravitated to the hurdles from the beginning. Both the 100-meter high hurdles and 400 intermediate hurdles are both physically and technically challenging events.
That’s what attracted Searles to them.
“When I first started I really enjoyed [the] hurdles,” she said. “I wasn’t always that good at them, but it’s been a long process. It definitely paid off. I’m glad I stuck with them because a lot of people do not enjoy them. I enjoy it because it’s unique. Not a lot of people can do hurdles.”
Searles said she spends about four days a week practicing hurdling. “It’s a lot of practice,” she said. “It’s a lot of repetition.”
Her fastest times are 16.0 in the 100 hurdles and 1:11 in the 400 hurdles.
Searles also leads off Mattituck’s strong 4×100 relay team, which includes Emily Nicholson, Mackenzie Conroy (Kylie’s sister) and Bella Masotti. That team has a season-best time of 52.0.
Robinson said Searles “can do anything I need her to do, which is always a blessing as a coach, but her niche is hurdles, so she’s always competed in the 100 hurdles and she just kept getting better and better and better. You knew she would because of the amount of time she put in. And her times just kept dropping and dropping and dropping.”
Looking ahead to her next chapter, Searles said: “I’m just very excited. I can’t wait to see my time improve. I’m very excited for the coaching staff that I’m going to have. I will miss the Mattituck coaches, though. I’m just excited to see where it takes me.”
Who knows where the next path will lead?