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Keen changes course, signs to run cross-country at Presbyterian

Posted: May 10, 2018 10:16 a.m.
Updated: May 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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CAMDEN SENIOR JULIA KEEN signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and cross country running endeavors at Presbyterian College while flanked by her parents, Caroline and Whitney Keen, along with her brother, Robert. Looking on from behind is Camden High girls’ cross country coach Mark Chickering.

in a competitive setting? Enough to have said no to the University of South Carolina’s Honors College --- after she was accepted into it --- in order to continue to pursue running cross country in college.

It took a visit to Presbyterian College for Keen, a Camden senior cross country and track standout, to decide that the Clinton campus simply felt like home.

On the day she signed her National Letter of Intent with the Blue Hose cross country program, the two-time All-Region 4-AAA runner said it took one night to change the way she looked at a smaller school.

“I was originally thinking I was going to go to a big school. Then, PC reached out to me and I visited there. I had an overnight stay and that’s what really changed my mind,” Keen said. “They were really warm and inviting and the whole team was so sweet. They seem to get along so well … they have that chemistry that I was looking for in a team.”

Keen was part of a Lady Bulldog squad which ran its way into the AAA state championship meet in each of the past three years. Camden High girls’ cross country coach Mark Chickering said Keen’s ability to try and take her teammates to her level was the clincher in the team’s finishing 19th in the state meet while, individually, Keen came home in 51st place.

“Julia leads by example,” Chickering said. “Not all the girls on our team could keep up with her but she encouraged the ones that were in the lead group to keep up with her. That was, sort of, a turning point for us, as team; when Julia started bringing our second, third and fourth runners along with her which made us a stronger team, overall.”

In college, cross country women’s meets are run at 3.5 miles which is a half-mile more than high school races. The additional yardage, Keen said, should not prove to be an obstacle for someone who, in peak season during the summer and fall, will run 20 to 25 miles per week to help prepare her for the rigors of the cross country schedule.

“I’m a little worried but, I think I’ll be OK,” she said of the change in distance at the collegiate level. “I’ll also be in better shape for it so, I should be good.”

When she received the opportunity to talk to some of her teammates-to-be at Presbyterian, Keen said the girls told her how much fun running cross country in college is as compared to running in high school. “They seem to really like it,” she said. “They said that it is challenging because the distance varies more. I’m excited.”

Keen anticipates ramping up her training regimen as she prepares for her first college season come this fall. Chickering believes if any person can handle the additional work load and flourish in such an environment, it is his team’s most valuable runner from last year.

“I think Julia’s training schedule is going to be a lot more intense than what you have at the high school level. Knowing how hard she works, I think she will be able to compensate for that with hard work and effort,” he said.

“The mileage that she’s going to have to undertake is going to be a lot more than high school. Keep in mind that she’s going to have academics to take care of, as well.”

Excelling both on the cross country course and the track --- in which she is a distance runner for the Camden track team --- as well as in the classroom, Julia Keen has never let her athletic pursuits get in the way of her academics. The daughter of a mother and father who are both educators and runners, Keen had her priorities in place well before she first laced up her running shoes.

“My whole family runs,” she said of her start in distance-running. “My mom runs, my dad runs and my grandparents have run before … It’s kind of a family thing. I ran my first 5K in fifth grade and I had friends interested in it so, we all kind of went into it as friend group. It was also a lot of my own motivation, too.”

With her CHS track season recently completed, during a time of year in which she scales back on her distance workouts, Keen said her training slate will change and the miles increase the closer it gets to cross country season.

“I’ll probably be putting in more miles per week. It will be more rigorous but, I’m looking forward to the challenge,” she said.

PC does not field a track team but, Keen said, some runners take part individually in meets during the spring season. She said she will probably do likewise to stay on point with her own conditioning to run in college where, she said, cross country is taken more seriously than the sport may be at the high school level.

“Hopefully, just more interest,” she said of what she thinks will be the biggest change between running at the two levels. “In high school, cross country is a thing most people do for fun. At the college level, people are more committed; people are more dedicated and more excited about being there. I’m looking forward to that.”

As for the PC cross country program, Chickering said the Blue Hose are getting a young lady who checks all the boxes, on and off the course, in Julia Keen.

“Julia is as good and as diligent a student as she is a runner. Needless to say, we’re very proud of her,” said the Lady Bulldog head coach. 

“Julia is a great kid. She works hard and is an excellent student. She does everything you ask of her as a runner and, as a student. As a coach, these are the kind of kids you look for and want to coach.”

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