Kyra Braunskill had been tagged as an up-and-coming sprinter for the Southampton High School girls track and field team. And then she moved to Riverhead last year.
Southampton’s loss was Riverhead’s gain. Southampton Coach Eddie Arnold evidently knew he had a gem in the making in Braunskill, and he kidded Riverhead Coach Maria Dounelis about the talent that had come her way.
Dounelis said Arnold told her, “You took my sprinter!” She recalled him saying, “Of all the middle school kids, Kyra, you had to take her?”
Braunskill, a freshman in her second season with the Blue Waves, is already regarded as Riverhead’s top sprinter, right in front of junior Tyesha Harrell.
“She’s just a naturally gifted athlete,” Dounelis said. “All the coaches have been so impressed.”
There has been a lot to be impressed about. For one thing, Braunskill has already been named a Riverhead athlete of the week. In the team’s first dual meet — a 79-71 win over the Bellport Clippers on March 29 — she took first place in the 100 meters in a personal-best time of 12.6 seconds, first place in the 200 in 27.0, and second place in the long jump with a leap of 15 feet 6 1/2 inches.
But perhaps even more encouraging than those numbers is the improvement Braunskill has shown since last season. “Dramatic improvement,” said Dounelis.
Braunskill, whose older brother Kyren was a track athlete for Southampton, said she didn’t like track when she was first introduced to the sport. But she said she is taking track more seriously than she did last year and has been encouraged by the strides she has made. “I saw more of my hard work paying off with my times coming down, so I kind of stuck with it,” she said.
Dounelis is glad she did. The coach said Braunskill long jumped about 15 feet last year, but reached 16-8 a few weeks ago in a scrimmage.
“A light bulb clicked somewhere,” Dounelis said. “You could see the difference in her. When we’re on the track, she’s working hard. She’s going.”
Braunskill may be following in the footsteps of teammate Fatima Brown, a junior who has come a long way since she joined the team as an eighth-grader. Dounelis said Brown has shown a great degree of maturity and has emerged as one of the team’s leaders.
Brown, who captains the Blue Waves along with senior Wynisha Hatcher, has gone as far as 16-11 1/2 in the long jump, run the 400 intermediate hurdles in as fast as about 71 seconds, and has a personal-best time of 1:05 in the 400. She has recently tried the triple jump and wants to reach 30 feet in that event soon.
One thing that has changed for Brown is her living arrangements. Her mother, Mary, a former track athlete for the Blue Waves, moved from Hempstead and now lives with her daughter.
In addition, Brown has a new outlook on things. “I became more confident because last year, every time I didn’t do as good as I thought I could, I just got down on myself and I always criticized myself too much,” she said. “But I think I stopped doing that so much and I got better.”
Brown is coming off an indoor season in which she was an all-league selection in the long jump, her favorite event.
“She’s positive with the other kids,” Dounelis said. “I mean, she’s just a true leader, and she’s athletically gifted. Her biggest hurdle is her, but she’s finally starting to overcome that and doesn’t beat herself up because it’s a sport that mentally can beat you up.”
In the meet against Bellport, Brown ran a 66.8-second split time for a 4×400 relay team that included Destiny McElroy, Hatcher and Rachel Conti; they were timed in 4:25.1. That day Brown was also third in both the 400 intermediate hurdles in 1:14.2 and the long jump at 14-10 1/2.
Being that this is her fourth year on the team, Brown said she sometimes feels as if she is a senior, not a junior. Younger teammates seek her out for advice.
“That reminds me of how I used to be,” she said.
The best advice Brown can offer to the young Blue Waves is the same advice she tries to follow.
“Never have a negative attitude, always stay positive,” she said. “I know I don’t sometimes.”