Jessica Lyons never ran track before this winter. Andie Murray never participated in winter track.
Both girls’ runners are also freshmen at Allentown High School.
Yet despite their inexperience, both qualified for the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet on March 8 in New York City.
Lyons finished 15th in the freshmen 400-meter run. Murray placed 11th in the freshmen one-mile race. But the results were besides the point. Qualifying was the accomplishment.
“We thought it was incredible that she made it,” said Karen Lyons, Jessica’s mother. “She just started track this season.”
“To make it to that elite level is definitely an accomplishment,” said Shawn Murray, Andie’s father. “It shows her talent and where she stands.”
Lyons is a girls’ soccer player. She joined Allentown’s track program to build her endurance for the pitch.
For that reason, she trained as a distance runner for most of the winter. But in soccer, Lyons has always won races to the ball. Her speed became evident to Allentown coach Rick Smith late in the season.
At the 85th Eastern States Championships meet on Feb. 19 in New York City, Smith entered Lyons in the 400-meter run. The freshman’s endurance and speed came together at that middle distance.
She ran a 59.21, breaking the school record by a full second. Senior teammate Kaitlyn Bergen set that record earlier this season.
“Jess has natural speed,” Smith said. “And distance training gave her the strength to stay fast for the whole race.”
After a season of track, Lyons already has more leg strength. She has noticed that she is kicking the ball harder on the soccer field.
Her soccer goal is to make the Redbirds’ varsity girls’ team next fall. But she is also going to keep running in the spring. In track, she wants to lower her 400 time to 58 seconds.
“I love both sports now,” Lyons said.
Unlike Lyons, Murray ran before high school. She set various track and field records at Stone Bridge Middle School in Allentown.
But like Lyons, Murray also loved another sport: girls’ basketball. And she was considering playing for Allentown’s program this winter. But she decided against it, choosing winter track instead.
In the fall, Murray qualified for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in cross-country. Smith called her “one of the best freshmen in the state,” and convinced her to keep running in the winter.
“He kept reinforcing that I could be real good,” Murray said.
Over time, the freshman realized that her coach was right. Between December and March, Murray broke school records in the 800-meter run (2:17.98) and the 1,000-meter run (3:15.93). She also anchored a 4×800-meter relay team that set a new Allentown mark with a time of 9:39.95.
“I made the right decision because track brought me farther than basketball would have,” Murray said.
Murray, however, is not applying the same philosophy to the spring season. She is going to try out for Allentown’s softball program, instead of running for its spring track team.
The freshman has been playing softball since she was little, and she does not want to stop.
“I want to do softball for at least one year so I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “But I know track can be a huge opportunity in my future.”