By Brian Paglia
Alycia Pryor used to hear from Mt. Zion girls track and field coach Jason Battles about the decorated high school careers of the former Lady Bulldogs track stars that came before her. Three had gone on to compete at the Division I level. Each of them held nearly every significant school record in the book.
"He always talked about them all the time," Pryor said. "I was like, 'Alright, I have to be like them.' It was definitely motivation for me to beat it."
Pryor joined the annals of Mt. Zion track stars at the next level when she signed a letter of intent with Auburn on Wednesday's national signing day.
And those school records? They're mostly Pryor's now.
"She's top of the line," Battles said. "Pretty special."
It was almost a moment missed. Pryor's family wavered during Clayton County's school accreditation crisis whether to keep her at Mt. Zion.
Pryor stayed, and the decision seemed warranted merely by the number of students and teachers that joined Pryor for her signing ceremony in the school's media center.
In the process, Pryor delivered amazing performances. Like the state title she won as just a sophomore. She finished second in the 100-meter at the state meet last year and might have won another state title in the 200-meter if not for an injury after her preliminary heat. No one threatened her at the Region 4-AAAA championships. Pryor swept both sprint events.
"I remember all three of the Division I girls," Battles said, "and Alycia's definitely the fastest."
Pryor said Auburn felt like a perfect fit -- a challenging program that is close enough to home.
"I liked the atmosphere at Auburn," Pryor said. "I really felt comfortable with the coaches there and the athletes that were there. It was far enough away that I could go be on my own, but close enough to where I can come home if I need to.
"What impressed me the most was the passion from the coach. I really like track. To me, it seemed more like family."
Pryor said she's ready for the challenge of competing in the Southeastern Conference.
"That's going to be a big challenge," she said. "But I'm ready for it. That's one of the things that motivated me. I feel like it will be good for me as an athlete to get that exposure and be around people that are just as fast as me to make me better."
But Pryor said the development by Battles and her club track coaches, along with a supportive family, was instrumental in helping her become a Division I athlete.
Which she said will make leaving Mt. Zion that much harder.
"I really, really, really enjoyed me time here," Pryor said. "It's going to be sad leaving. Coach Battles is a good coach. He's more than just a coach. He's like a father figure for all of us. We really look up to him. And I'm just hoping that some of younger athletes here will take me example to do all they can while they can."
Just like Pryor did.