Methacton senior Juliana Keenan said she and her two older brothers played several sports growing up.
Though they tried soccer, football and others, it turns out the Keenans were a track family, with all three turning in standout track & field careers for the Warriors and continuing the sport into college.
The oldest, Jimmy, is a junior sprinter at Wilmington University, middle child John is a sophomore thrower at the University of Notre Dame and after Juliana completes her senior year at Methacton she will compete for the Fighting Irish as well.
“They played different sports, so I was always trying different sports, but the common denominator was that I always loved the feeling of getting a good run in or a good lift in,” Keenan said. “It’s not necessarily that I did it all so that I could see growth. It was kind of more in the moment I just feel like I’ve been able to embrace being active and I like to work hard.
“Of course, it’s great to see everything pay off, but I definitely think because of my brothers I grew up with a competitive, tough mentality. I always had to stay with it and keep up, so I guess that’s where it came from.”
Keenan was prompted to start track after her family and others saw the way she ran as a defender on the soccer field. She started running with Visitation’s C.Y.O team starting in fifth grade and dove headfirst into the sport.
Though she played soccer through her sophomore year at Methacton, citing that she enjoyed the team environment, Keenan said the passion for track was always stronger, leading her to focus on the sport.
“I just loved to run,” Keenan said. “My favorite part of soccer was just running in soccer. I would always love in high school the preseason workouts. It was almost like I loved the training element of it and that’s what kind of pointed me in the direction of, ‘Wow I really like the sport.’ It’s just kind of cultivated itself through the years.”
Keenan’s soccer career ended after she suffered a concussion during her sophomore year at Methacton in fall 2017 and then hit her head once again after the season.
She had a promising freshman track season, finishing fifth in the 400 meters, sixth in the 100 meters and ninth in the 200 meters at the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championships and qualifying for districts in the 200, but the concussions forced her to miss winter track as a sophomore and she was not fully recovered for the spring.
Despite limited training, Keenan came back for the end of the 2018 track season to finish second in the 300 hurdles, fifth in the 200 and sixth in the 400 at the PAC championships. She followed with a 16th place in the 300-meter hurdles at the District 1 Championships and ran a leg of Methacton’s 4×100 relay team that finished sixth at districts and went to states.
Keenan returned 100 percent as a junior in 2018-19 and with her soccer career over, her focus fully shifted to the track. There was plenty of work to be made up for though.
“Her sophomore year, she was never back,” Methacton track & field coach Rob Ronzano said. “There was so much promise in her sophomore year, that concussion situation just kind of knocked her out. Last year as a junior, it was almost like it was her freshman year all over again where she had to start from scratch. Part of it had to do with her regaining her confidence.”
“My full recovery kind of took until the beginning of my junior year and then it was kind of just adjusting my whole junior year trackwise, getting back into it,” Keenan added.
Keenan finished seventh in the 200 at the 2019 PAC championships, improving on her 2018 time. She also took home gold in the 300 hurdles and decided to focus on the event at districts.
Her 46.56 seconds in the 300 hurdles at the PAC meet was just 0.31 seconds off the state qualifying time, and that was her goal heading into the District 1 championships.
Instead, she was disqualified in the preliminaries when she went around, instead of over, one of the hurdles.
“Last year at districts I had a really bad race in the 300 hurdles,” Keenan said. “I got disqualified in the race in the prelims. I put too much pressure on the race. Like, ‘If I get into the finals, I know I can run a state time for sure. I’m so able to do it.’ All the sudden the automatic for me was to go around the hurdle. … That just shows I put way too much weight in that one race.”
Keenan ran better than ever this winter in preparation for the 2020 track season.
Ronzano said one of Keenan’s problems was running too hard during races, which caused her to tense up. He saw her run more relaxed this winter and spring, noting that her commitment to Notre Dame in February might have been a contributing factor.
She set personal records in the 55, 60, 200, 300, 400 and 55 hurdles in the winter and looked to be getting faster as the 2020 track season approached.
“I’m not going to compare anyone to Ryann (Krais) and we were only practicing the first half of the race so the first four hurdles,” Ronzano said, “but what I can say is she looked so fluid and smooth in it that I pulled her aside during one of the practices and said, ‘Juliana if you don’t go to states in the 300 hurdles, it’s my fault.’ She looked so good and relaxed and smooth.”
While Keenan raced in the 4×100 relay at states twice, the talented runner never made it to the PIAA championships individually during her Methacton career.
Along with experiencing another spring with friends and competing for a PAC team title, not getting the opportunity to rectify last year’s district performance and make it to states came as the biggest disappointment when her senior season was cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I guess what I was looking forward to was that redemption,” Keenan said. “I was so ready and I felt really good this winter on the track. I was running some really good times.”
There’s plenty for Keenan to look forward to however as she joins John at Notre Dame next season, where she plans to run the 200, 400 and 400 hurdles.
After a high school career that didn’t always live up to lofty expectations, Keenan’s best races are ahead of her according to Ronzano.
“She’ll really excel next year when she gets to Notre Dame because the 400 hurdles is going to be a perfect race for her because she’s got the speed, she’s got the speed endurance and now she’s got the running form down,” Ronzano said. “I think she’s going to do outstanding next year.”
“I’m really excited about that, especially now that I wasn’t able to have my whole senior year, which is like prime time high school track gone,” Keenan said. “I’m really fortunate that I get to continue.”