Good things come in small, smiling packages.
At 5’2″, junior Kylie McCuen may have an unlikely build for a sprinter, but she has been breaking records since the sixth grade. At her elementary school track meet in Brea, Calif., McCuen entered as the smallest girl in the 100-yard dash.
“I was really small, but once the gun went off, I flew past the other runners and surprised everyone by winning,” McCuen said. “In sixth grade I broke the school record and still hold it.”
McCuen always seems to come out of nowhere. After a rough rookie season at UCSB, McCuen saw personal bests at almost every meet of her sophomore year. This season, she broke the 200-yard school record, a goal she set for herself during her freshman year.
“I was so surprised because I had been concentrating on the 400. At the end of the race, I saw my parents, which made it even more unbelievable that they were there to witness it,” McCuen said. “It was joy, just pure joy.”
An all-over sprinter, McCuen runs the 200-yard dash and participates in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays, but particularly identifies as a 400 runner. She began racing the 400 in high school, after joining the track team between soccer seasons. But as college approached, McCuen saw more potential in track and upon a visit to UCSB after a family camping trip, decided it was the place for her.
Luckily for McCuen, UCSB chose her too. She maintains a close relationship with her Gaucho Coach Matt Lea, a former University of Arizona All-American runner.
“He is an outstanding athlete and has so much knowledge as a 400 runner. I trust him and consider him a good friend,” McCuen said. “In track you have to trust your coach because he holds your hopes and dreams in his hands. He doesn’t just want me to do well for the team, but to personally do well.”
McCuen’s love of track extends to the friendships she has made with her teammates.
“My motivation comes from my team and the people I’ve met. They are all so enthusiastic about running,” McCuen said. “When you compete at this level, it’s hard not to love it.”
Taking over Gaucho alumna Jasmine Washington’s position as top sprinter, McCuen felt the pressure of being the center of attention this year. Her consistency in dropping her 200 time and setting personal bests hides any qualms she may have about the races. What’s her trick? Don’t think about the race until you step into the blocks, she said.
“It’s always a challenge; if you have a bad day, you have a bad day because there is no one to cover for you,” McCuen said. “But, you better yourself every time.”
The Big West Championships on Friday and Saturday will be McCuen’s next test. As a favorite to win, McCuen is most concerned about qualifying for regionals, after finishing two-hundredths of a second slower than the qualifying time last year. If she runs her best time, McCuen has a shot at qualifying for nationals.
“The team is flat-out fun. Track is like no other sport. It’s a team, but also an individual test of yourself,” McCuen said. “Track meets are never boring – something amazing always happens.”